Racking up four Academy Awards (including Best Picture) at the Oscars this week, the Korean film revolves around the wealthy Park family who live in a flawless house and have a poor family work for them. In the film, the home is said to be custom-built by fictional celebrity architect Namgoong Hyunja and is meant to highlight class inequalities through size and opulence.
In reality, director Bong Joon Ho and production designer Lee Ha Jun spent years creating a space across different sets, Bong told Vulture. The idea was to have a home that appeared chic and simple from the outside but housed secrets within, just like the residents who live inside. It first appears as an open-floor plan that goes from the kitchen to the living room and is broken only by two large staircases.
“I would explain to the production designer that it was crucial for the blocking lines,” Bong said. “Characters needed to be able to eavesdrop or hide from others, like when the original housekeeper returns to the house.”
As the film progresses, viewers discover a third staircase — one that is hidden by walls, furniture and other elements of the home’s design. It leads to the basement and a secret bunker hiding more of the Park family’s secrets. The first flight of steps falls into the second flight of stairs from the basement to the bunker.
“The reason why we did this was there was a scene that goes down the entire space with a steady cam, and it was the director’s specific request that the scene proceeds in one breath, without stopping,” Lee told Vulture. Along with the technique of having stairs and heights indicate differing social status, the staircase also serves as a space to uncover secrets.
To create the appearance of wealth, Ho had modernist carpenter Bahk Jong Sun custom-make the tables and chairs. They also brought in pieces from exclusive designers — all to highlight class inequality and how beautiful appearances can hide ugly secrets behind them.
“The trash can cost like $2,300! It was German,” Bong said to Vulture. “Me and my crew members were like: ‘What the f**k? What kind of idiot would buy a trash can that’s going to smell anyway?'”