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‘Parasite’ Is Going to be a Television Series, Because of Course It Is

Bong Joon-ho’s anticapitalist film is being adapted into an English-language program on HBO. But does its story need more telling?

CJ Entertainment/Ringer illustration

“Once you overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” Parasite director Bong Joon-ho said through a translator when accepting the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture–Foreign Language at the 2020 Golden Globe Awards on Sunday night. Parasite is an excellent film—it could be a Best Picture nominee, and, somehow, the first Korean feature film nominated in any category by the Academy—while being a box office sensation in the United States and many other parts of the globe. And if Parasite is something you saw because of the immense hype surrounding it, despite the film not being in your cinematic wheelhouse, Bong is simply nudging people to seek out other great movies that just so happen to require subtitles.

When it comes to all things Parasite, though, you may soon have an English-language compromise. As revealed by The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday, Bong and filmmaker Adam McKay are going to adapt and executive-produce a Parasite limited series for HBO. The details thus far are sparse—so much so that it’s unclear whether the series will be a straight-up rehash of the film’s plot or some kind of tangentially related expansion of the Parasite, uh, universe.

Perhaps the news was inevitable; this is just how Hollywood works these days. To paraphrase Field of Dreams: If you stan it, they will come (and turn something you love into franchisable IP). Parasite wouldn’t be the first widely acclaimed non-IP film to get this treatment, even among 2019 releases—Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is getting a sequel. Hell, this isn’t even a new phenomenon for Bong: His 2013 film, Snowpiercer, was also adapted into a TV series that’s set to air this year on TNT.

This isn’t to say that all cinematic extensions are artistic failures. (I will gladly watch 20 more John Wick films.) But there’s something about Parasite getting the limited series treatment that just feels, well, wrong. There’s the possibility that HBO will effectively Americanize a very Korean story—though as Bong has repeatedly emphasized, capitalism is a universal struggle—while removing the aforementioned subtitle “barrier.” There’s also the matter of narrative: If the Parasite limited series is simply a remake, stretching out Bong’s tale into several hours could dilute its suspense. Even the armchair editors claiming you could trim 15-odd minutes from The Irishman would have a hard time arguing that Parasite is either too short or too long. You can see how something like Knives Out works for a sequel: just keep following Daniel Craig’s extremely Southern private eye as he solves new mysteries. (Likewise, with John Wick, just let Keanu Reeves wipe out assassins and memeable NBA role players in increasingly creative ways.) Parasite doesn’t lend itself to narrative extension—it works so well as a contained story, unless the only thing the limited series carries over is the basic “capitalism = evil” framework.

But most important of all: Why mess with perfection? If it isn’t the single most widespread film on critics’ top-10 lists, Parasite is certainly in the running. Bong’s masterpiece tapped into modern anxieties around class warfare better than any other movie this year, and there was no shortage of strong candidates (and also Joker) playing in that thematically rich sandbox. To see Parasite reduced (mutated?) into a franchisable piece of content for HBO doesn’t just seem like a cynical cash grab, but something that’s antithetical to the anticapitalist spirit of the film.

These grievances could, and probably will, seem a tad premature, especially with such limited information available—such is the risk of blogging. Bong, after all, has signed off on the project and should be involved in some capacity. (Could he direct some, if not all, of the series? Who knows?) Alternatively, if Bong’s simply trying to cash a fat check from HBO, he’s well within his right to do so; work the system, king! Bong aside, the pedigree for the Parasite series would appear to be in good hands: McKay has a solid track record, including, on the TV side, directing the pilot of Succession. Parasite falls into McKay’s post-Anchorman, “I want to be taken seriously” sensibilities, and a successful television adaptation might help wash the stain of Vice from our minds.

But even if the Parasite series fires on all cylinders, there might always be that lingering feeling of why? Why did another version of this story have to be told? In English? Spread out over several episodes of television? Why can’t Parasite, as a critically acclaimed film and potential Best Picture nominee, be enough? Unfortunately, I know the answer. I’ve seen the movie.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.