Neon brought the films Parasite and Clemency to The Contenders Los Angeles on Saturday. Parasite is a Korean con artist film that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year. Clemency is an American drama about a death row warden that won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year. The connection is that both filmmakers were inspired by the past to tell modern fictional tales.
In Parasite, the Kim family sabotages the wealthy Park family’s help so they can live in their luxurious house. Writer-director Bong Joon Ho said he got the idea from one of his own college jobs.
“I taught a middle school boy and he would take me to every corner of the house to show me around and he would talk about his parents, although I never asked,” Bong said through an interpreter. “So I was fired only after two months. If I hadn’t been fired, I might have been able to discover other things about that family. I was an innocent college student. I didn’t have any bad intentions but that was the inspiration for this film.”
The Kim kids becomes the Park children’s tutors. The parents become housekeeper and driver. Once Bong started imagining where the story of Parasite could go, it departed from his tutoring experience.
“In particular from the moment the original housekeeper comes back and rings the doorbell, the entire film just completely switches,” Bong said. “The story heads towards the complete opposite direction towards the edge of a cliff and that all came to me in the last two months. Even I was surprised as I was writing.”
That was a new experience for Bong. In previous films, he said, he thought of the ending first.
“For my previous film Mother, I already had the last scene set from the very beginning of my creative progress,” Bong said. “The two hours that come before that are basically all propelling towards that ending. But Parasite I had the opposite when screenwriting.”
In Clemency, Alfre Woodard plays a death row warden reeling from years of carrying out executions. Writer-director Chinonye Chukwu started thinking about wardens when she heard about the Troy Davis execution in Georgia in 2011.
“Hundreds of thousands of people around the world were protesting against his execution including a handful retired wardens and directors of corrections,” Chukwu said. “Those wardens and directors banned together and urged the governor for clemency, not just on the grounds of Troy’s potential innocence but they spoke to the emotional and psychological consequences they knew killing Troy would have on those sanctioned to do so. The morning after Troy was executed I just became obsessed with the question: What must it be for your livelihood to be tied to the taking of human life?”
Chukwu volunteered on 14 clemency cases in Ohio and created a film program teaching female prisoners to make short films before making her own feature. Once she cast Woodard in Clemency, she took her star to meet death row inmates and people who worked in the prison system.
“We knew it was a story that must be told because you can’t decide whether you are pro or con death penalty until you know all of the ingredients that are laid out on the table,” Woodard said. “The thing that I couldn’t shake for about a month, I couldn’t shake the people that I met. These people have a PTSD rate as high as our troops that we send into multiple deployments. If they’re married, they’re on their third marriage. I just wanted you guys to see what is being asked of people. You do with it what you want.”
Parasite is in theaters now. Clemency opens December 27.