Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s 2019 Oscar-winning hit ‘Parasite (기생충)’ needs no introduction but perhaps the music in this acclaimed film does.
Known as ‘Bong-tail’ in Korea because of his attention to detail, Bong Joon Ho has always placed great emphasis on how music is incorporated into his films – and Parasite was no exception. He employed the talents of Jung Jae Il for this task for the second consecutive time, following their partnership in 2017 film Okja.
Whether you’ve already seen the film or have yet to see it, here are the details behind the music in Parasite that can help you appreciate the movie on a whole new level.
Scroll down to start reading or skip to the various sections of this article by clicking on the links below:
- The music director
- The 7-minute classical piece
- The hidden voice in track 10
- The hidden instrument in track 10 & 20
- The ‘ram-don’ noodles of track 13
- The famous Italian song
- The ending credit song
The music director
The person behind the 25 pieces of original music
Parasite’s music director Jung Jae Il (정재일) is not an unfamiliar face to the who’s who of the Korean music industry. Recognized for his musical talent as a teenager, he first came to the spotlight as a young guitar player in Han Sang Won (한상원)’s band.
His early start in the industry led to his career kicking off in music direction as well. As early as 15, he was participating in music for Korean films, eventually taking on full directing roles.
Jung Jae Il has also appeared more publicly since he started collaborating with balladeer Park Hyo Shin (박효신) – a Korean singer who debuted in 1999 and is known for his poetic songs like ‘Wildflower‘. In addition to composing the songs, Jung Jae Il also plays the piano accompaniments, appearing on Park Hyo Shin’s music videos and concerts. In 2019, both Jung Jae Il and Park Hyo Shin made a rare TV appearance on ‘Your Song (너의 노래는)’, a four-part musical journey introducing Jung Jae Il and his wide-ranging endeavours.
Jung Jae Il’s work spans musicals, mainstream music, traditional Korean music, important public events such as the North-South Korean summit, as well as film. While he has worked on a number of films, the most recognizable to global audiences is perhaps the 2017 Netflix film ‘Okja’ (옥자), directed by none other than Bong Joon Ho.
Biography of prolific music director, composer, and musician Jung Jae-il
The 7-minute classical piece ‘The Belt of Faith’
Track 8 of Parasite’s original soundtrack is ‘The Belt of Faith’ (믿음의 벨트). This 7-minute classical piece flows seamlessly with the ‘peach sequence’ in the movie where each member of the poor family executes their master plan to get rid of the mansion’s long-standing housekeeper.
According to music director Jung Jae Il, the final version of The Belt of Faith in Parasite had six different versions before the seventh was accepted. And this lengthy original soundtrack wasn’t the only one that the director-composer toiled away on. Even the opening sequence was rejected by director Bong Joon Ho four times before he approved of the music that would underline the tone of the movie.
Here’s a short clip of Jung Jae Il playing The Belt of Faith on the piano:
Jung Jae Il said in an interview that he wanted to bring baroque-style music into the movie but because of his lack of a traditional music background, the outcome was what he calls ‘nonsensical baroque’. Nothing in the soundtrack sounds like nonsense to someone who appreciates his work and enjoyed the movie, but I’ll leave it to music critics to chime in about that.
The hidden voice in track 10
Whose voice is mixed in with the children’s?
It is impossible to tell. But some fans did notice a familiar name in the credits – Park Hyo Shin, the respected Korean balladeer known for his exceptional live vocals.
If you aren’t familiar with Park Hyo Shin’s music, the songs that can offer a good introduction are Wildflower and Breath, both of which are from his collaborations with Parasite’s music director Jung Jae Il.
In his 2019 concert, with Jung Jae Il playing the piano accompaniments, Park Hyo Shin shared that he featured in the Parasite soundtrack alongside the voices of a children’s choir. He added jokingly to his fans that if they listened with their hearts, they might be able to catch his voice in the music.
Park Hyo Shin’s cameo in the soundtrack seems like one of the ways he gave moral support to his close music companion and friend, Jung Jae Il.
The hidden instrument in track 10 & 20
Did you notice the odd sound playing in the background?
If you didn’t notice the first time, listen again to track 10, ‘Camping (야영)’:
The eerie human-like sound that comes and goes in the background of track 10 is actually from a musical saw.
Jung Jae Il previously experimented with this unlikely instrument when he collaborated with singer Lee Juck (이적). Here’s a short clip of the musical saw Jung Jae Il played in Lee Juck’s ‘That day’ (어느 날):
The sound of the saw contrasts with the choir in the track, adding to the chilling effect of the scenes in the movie.
The ‘ram-don’ noodles of track 13
In the movie, the child of the rich family wants to eat something called ‘Zappaguri’ (translated as ‘ram-don’ in English) and the mother of the poor family scrambles to prepare it.
Soundtrack number 13 of the same name plays in the background:
Here are some facts about the noodle dish in Parasite that might make you go and whip up one yourself.
What it is
‘Zappaguri’ (짜파구리, pronounced ‘jja-pa-gu-ri’) is a portmanteau – a word created from combining different words together – of Korean instant noodles ‘Zappaghetti’ (짜파게티) and ‘Neoguri’ (너구리). Zappaghetti is an instant noodle version of the Korean black bean noodles and Neoguri is a seafood-flavoured instant noodle.
When it was created
Avid fans of Korean TV shows might remember when Zappaguri was created. The 2013 show ‘Dad! Where are we going?’ (아빠 어디가?), was about a group of celebrity dads taking their kids on overnight trips.
One of the episodes was a cooking contest between the dads who generally can’t cook properly. The secret weapon of one of the dads was mixing the black bean noodles and seafood-flavoured noodles together to form what he dubbed ‘Zappaguri’. It was a massive hit among the kids, both on the show and in Korea as a whole.
See the children’s reactions when they tried Zappaguri for the first time on the show:
How it was translated
If you noticed the subtitles in Parasite, you would have seen Zappaguri translated as ‘ram-don’ in English. This is the work of veteran Korean film translator Darcy Paquet who combined ‘ramen’ and ‘udon’, noodles that English-speakers would recognize and understand over the names of the Korean instant ones.
The famous Italian song
In case that caught your attention
Different things catch the attention of different people. So you might have been one of those people who recalled an Italian song playing in one of the scenes and had to know what it was once the movie ended.
In Parasite, an Italian song plays when the members of the poor family are kneeling (watch the movie to find out why). This song is called ‘In Ginocchio Da Te’ by Gianni Morandi. It means ‘kneeling in front of you’ in Italian and appears in the black and white movie of the same name from 1964.
According to Jung Jae Il, it was a coincidence that Bong Joon Ho decided to use this song. Apparently, Bong Joon Ho just picked up one of the LP records that was being used as a prop on the set and decided to play it then and there on a whim. ‘In Ginocchio Da Te’ happened to play and the scene happened to be of the family kneeling – although not at all in the original romantic context of the song.
The ending credit song
If you watch a film in a cinema, you might stay through the ending credits to watch the post-credits scene or to wait for the crowd to clear the packed exits. But after the end of ‘Parasite,’ you might have stayed glued to your seat because of the strange whirlwind of emotions the movie leaves you with. It’s only normal that you could have missed a song playing in the background.
The Korean song in Parasite’s ending credits is ‘Soju One Glass’ (소주 한 잔) – better translated as ‘A Glass of Soju’. The singer is Choi Woo Sik (최우식), the actor who plays the son of the poor family. According to the director, the song is an extension of the ending of the movie which is also narrated by the son.
Bong Joon Ho himself took a stab at songwriting for the first time with ‘Soju One Glass.’ He originally asked Jung Jae Il to write the song to which the music director suggested that the screenwriter (i.e. Bong) become the songwriter to the movie as well. The result is what feels like Bong Joon Ho signing his name off in the form of this song as the credits roll down.
There was a lot that made Parasite what it is and there is no denying that music was a significant part of that. As the movie makes its mark around the world and starts a renaissance of Korean movies, I hope that less mainstream yet talented artists such as Jung Jae Il also gain recognition and lasting supporters of their work.
‘Minari’ actress Yoon Yuh-jung
‘Okja’ and ‘Parasite’ music director Jung Jae-il