June 12, 2021

Parasite: The real people living in Seoul’s basement apartments

A surprise box office hit telling the story of a poor South Korean family living in a tiny, dark semi-basement, and a wealthy family living in a glamorous home in Seoul.

But while the Oscar-tipped film Parasite is a work of fiction, the apartment is not. They’re called banjiha, and thousands of people live in them in South Korea’s capital, Seoul.

Julie Yoon, of BBC Korean, went to meet some of them, to find out what life is like there.

There’s basically no sunlight in Oh ke-cheol’s banjiha.

It gets so little light that even his little succulent plant couldn’t survive.

The street offers a direct view into Oh ke-cheol’s apartment
People can peer into his apartment through the windows. Teenagers occasionally smoke outside his flat, or spit onto the ground.

In the summer, he suffers from unbearable humidity and battles with rapidly growing mould.

The tiny bathroom has no sink and is raised half a metre above the floor. The ceiling of the bathroom is so low he has to stand with his legs wide, to avoid banging his head.

“When I first moved in, I got bruises from banging my shin on the step and scrapes from stretching my arms against the concrete walls,” says Oh, 31, who works in the logistics industry.

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