SBS Producer Shares His Most Honest And Personal Experience With Director Bong Joon Ho’s “Smell”

“He had that very smell that he meant to convey in Parasite…”

In the movie Parasite, the concept of a person’s “smell” plays a strong thematic role, especially by setting the differences between the wealthy Parks and the parasitic Kims.

This overarching idea of “smell” — and all the time that it gets referenced throughout the movie — became one of the many details for which the Oscar-winning director Bong Joon Ho has been endlessly praised. Now that the movie is more popular than ever, viewers have come to wonder: What led Bong Joon Ho to intertwine the scents so deeply into the film?

The Kims from “Parasite”

SBS‘s radio producer Lee Jae Ik shared in a recent Podcast interview that it may have come from the director’s very personal experience of having been “at the bottom of the pit”. The producer, who also worked in screenwriting too, recalled a time he and Bong Joon Ho grabbed drinks after meeting at a scenario contest.

Producer Lee Jae Ik

About 20 years ago, Bong Joon Ho sat as an evaluator at a scenario contest in which I submitted my work and was selected for an award. After the contest, he and I got to drink together at an after-party type of dinner to congratulate the winners…

— Lee Jae Ik

Producer Lee Jae Ik explained that director Bong Joon Ho was “not in a good place” at the time because his movie Barking Dogs Never Bite had failed him.

Poster For “Barking Dogs Never Bite”

That was when Bong Joon Ho was at the bottom of the pit, after his Barking Dogs Never Bite movie had totally failed to sell. He was so financially troubled that he had to ask his friends for rice so he wouldn’t starve and stuff…

— Lee Jae Ik

When Bong Joon Ho showed up to the after party, he came and sat next to Lee Jae Ik. The producer recalled in his utmost honesty that he actually “couldn’t stand the smell” that came from the director.

The Young Bong Joon Ho 

And at the after party, we got to sit together, right? He arrived a little late, but he came to congratulate the winners. So he came and sat next to me… and I still remember how he smelled. It was late summer in 2001 or 2002. He had that very smell that he meant to convey in Parasite. It literally drove me crazy. It was a smell of poverty? Like the smell of being a nobody…

— Lee Jae Ik

Lee Jae Ik shared that he ended up bringing it up to the director, who didn’t seem too bothered by it.

Director Bong Joon Ho In Action

I eventually couldn’t hold it in anymore and asked him, ‘Have you been out and about?’ Bong Joon Ho apologized and said, ‘I’m so sorry, I must smell horrible, right?’ He then told me that he was outside checking out the locations for where his next movie would take place. I asked him what it would be about and he said the ‘Hwasung City Serial Killer’ case. You know, to be honest, I thought that movie would fail miserably too…

— Lee Jae Ik

Though, it seems, Bong Joon Ho hung on to the idea how his struggle changed his odor. Later, in a multiple of interviews, the director shared:

Smell really reflects your life. It shows if you’re struggling. what kind of work you do. Even when you sense the smell of someone else, you don’t talk about it in the open, because it can be rude… By talking about different smells, the film puts the class issue under the microscope. Through smells, the film’s tension and suspense mount, which eventually makes a multi-layered foundation for the upcoming tragedy.

— Bong Joon Ho

Fast forward to 2019, when Parasite came out, Lee Jae Ik watched the movie — only to see the theme of the “smell” prolonging throughout the plot. He admitted that he became ashamed to his core.

A Scene From “Parasite”


Anyway, when I watched Parasite and realized how much of an importance the ‘smells’ play in the movie, I was reminded of that after party from over 20 years ago. And I was so, so ashamed to my core that I thought that he ‘smelled of poverty’. I also realized that all this time, I had been so afraid of ‘smelling like a poor nobody’ pretty much that I didn’t even give myself any chance to try pushing my boundaries. And to be frank, I wouldn’t deserve the fame and wealth because I never tried.

— Lee Jae Ik

The producer added, “And now that Bong Joon Ho has won countless prestigious awards, I hear people talk about how he comes from a wealthy family and so has had it easy to make himself successful.” Lee Jae Ik strongly disagreed and pointed out that it was Bong Joon Ho’s “smelly past” that put him where he is today.


I know people talk about Bong Joon Ho’s family now. Like his father being a professor and his grandfather being a writer… or whatever. People are saying that he comes from a well-off, culturally-enriching family and so that he must have had it easy to go this big. While that might not be entirely false, I remember the struggling Bong Joon Ho way too clearly to believe that he ‘had it easy’. I watched him walk through the lonely and hungry days of being irrelevant. I smelled him, so I know better. Bong Joon Ho so completely  deserves everything he has right now, because he really worked for it.

— Lee Jae Ik

Viewers remain fascinated by how director Bong Joon Ho creates undeniably eye-catching details from every moment of his life.

  • “I did wonder how Bong Joon Ho from a well-off family knew so well the details behind the lives of the more unfortunate… I guess he learned it for himself, huh?”
  • “He has ‘been there, done that’ to direct movies that truly capture those lifestyles.”
  • “Lee Jae Ik’s comment about how he was afraid of being a nobody really hits home for me… Bong Joon Ho is an inspiration.”
  • “So he knew from his own experience what it is like to be the Kim family… I guess you really have to go all in and go crazy to go big.”
  • “This is such a genuine, wholesome interview…”
Source: THEQOO and The Guardian