Sweeping the Best Picture award at the 92nd Academy Awards, international sensation Parasite sheds light on the cramped living conditions in South Korea’s capital city. Now, a government-backed renovation scheme is set to see the subterranean semi-basements of Seoul drastically improve. 

Two children sit in a damp basement in a still image from the movie Parasite.
The film Parasite won Best Picture at the Oscars © Alamy Stock Photo

South Korean film Parasite made waves as the first non-English speaking film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. As dark and complex as its narrative is, the cinematic release might just have a positive impact on the real-life households like the one illustrated in the film. Raising awareness of the thousands of urban dwellings across South Korea, including their high concentration in Seoul, the film’s depiction of the hard-up Kim family’s struggles and frustrations are embodied in the apartment they live in. 

The urban dwelling from the film is a half-basement – known locally as Banjiha, these apartments sink just beneath the ground floor level. Subsequently they let in little to no natural light and are often damp and considerably prone to damage when the city floods. Originally constructed during the 1970s, Seoul’s Banjiha were built as bunkers due to fears rising amidst a period of military tension with North Korea. As an affordable way to live in the city, they have since been utilised as cheaply-converted standalone rental spaces. 

Residential high rises in Gangnam District, Seoul, South Korea skyline at night.
Residential high rises in Gangnam district of Seoul © Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has joined forces with the Korea Energy Foundation and announced that they will improve the quality of life for 1500 of these semi-basement apartments, according to the Korea Herald. This will incorporate fixing and improving heating systems and replacing flooring, along with installing air conditioning systems, dehumidifiers, ventilators, windows and fire alarms. It’s stated that they will spend up to 3.2 million South Korean won (US$2640) per apartment.

Decisions have been made to focus on improving the wellbeing of low-income households; 78% of Banjiha inhabitants are from the bottom 30% income bracket, and so those who earn less than 60% of the median income will be able to apply to the scheme. Future plans dictate that the government will expand on the number of households applicable to this scheme each year.

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