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Three Recommendations and a Belt of Faith: How "Parasite" Uses Music to Build its Con

An analysis of four pieces from the Parasite soundtrack

This analysis contains spoilers.

Take a look at the Parasite (2019) soundtrack and you’ll notice a curious pattern: there are three pieces with the word “conciliation” in their titles.

  1. “Opening”
  2. “Conciliation I”
  3. “On the Way to Rich House”
  4. “Conciliation II”
  5. “Plum Juice”
  6. “Mr. Yoon and Park”
  7. “Conciliation III”
  8. “The Belt of Faith”

Parasite composer Jung Jae-il cleverly uses this “conciliation trilogy” to parallel the Kim family’s developing conspiracy. This piece will analyze how the soundtrack adds tonal texture and audial symbolism to the story’s rising action—coloring each of the Kims’ referrals with mischief before propelling them to success in a blaze of orchestral fury.

Conciliation I

“Conciliation I” by Jung Jae-il | Sony Music Entertainment

Composer Jung Jae-il’s “Conciliation I” introduces the trilogy, and it plays during the pivotal conversation between Ki-Woo (Choi Woo-sik) and Min (Park Seo-joon). I have already dissected this scene in detail in another piece (below), but I will focus on the essentials here.

When Min officially offers the English tutoring job to him, Ki-Woo asks whether he will have to pretend to be a college student. In a Vanity Fair piece, director Bong Joon-Ho and Choi Woo-Sik point out that a bus was timed specifically to cross behind Ki-Woo at this moment in the film, symbolizing the border between what Bong calls the “normal world” and the “crime world.”

It is in this moment that “Conciliation I” starts playing. This piece starts in the key of D Major and features a sparse, dancing melody played on bells, highlighting the mischief that is about to occur. Just as the bus forms a visual boundary, this piece of music serves as an audial segue into the imminent crime.

Conciliation II

“Conciliation II” by Jung Jae-il | Sony Music Entertainment

“Conciliation II” continues the trilogy when it enters the soundscape after Ki-Woo has secured his job as “Kevin,” the English tutor. After the rich madame Yon-Kyo (Jo Yeo-jeong) talks candidly about her son’s eccentricities, Ki-Woo hatches a plan to get his sister hired as an art therapist. As he raises the stakes, the music parallels this rising action by repeating the same bell motif as heard in “Conciliation I” and raising it by one semitone—to Eb Major.

Additionally, “Conciliation II” features a second melody played by a string section, which enters at around 0:09 in the song. If we interpret the bells to be Ki-Woo, then the strings represent Ki-Jung, entering the fray to add a second layer to the mischief.

Conciliation III

“Conciliation III” by Jung Jae-il | Sony Music Entertainment

After Ki-Jung gets the Parks’ driver fired by framing him for having car sex, Ki-Jung expands the con by recommending “Mr. Kim” to replace the previous driver. Mr. Kim is really her father Ki-Taek (Song Kang-ho). It is in this moment that “Conciliation III” starts to play. This piece raises the now-established Conciliation melody by another semitone (from Eb Major to E Major), and adds a third instrument—this time a bassoon. If the bells were Ki-Woo and the strings were Ki-Jung, then the bassoon represents Ki-Taek, whose infiltration of the household brings the third layer of mischief.

It is worthwhile to examine the usage of the word “Conciliation” in the first place. If we only consider the English definition of the word (“ the action of mediating between two disputing people or groups”) then the diction may seem unfitting. There is no apparent dispute occurring between the parties involved. When we look at the original Korean titles, however, we find that the word is “알선,” which translates more accurately to “mediation” or “recommendation.”

If we reinterpret the song titles using this definition, then the soundtrack pieces’ placement fits perfectly: “Recommendation I” plays when Min offers Ki-Woo the tutoring job, “Recommendation II” plays when Ki-Woo refers Ki-Jung for the art therapist job, and “Recommendation III” plays when Ki-Jung recommends Ki-Taek for the chauffeur job. By repeating the established melody in progressively rising keys while adding layers of instrumentation, Jung Jae-il allows each installment of the Conciliation trilogy to push forward the story’s rising action.

So what about the fourth recommendation?

Yon-Kyo: “This chain of recommendations is best. How should I describe it…like a belt of faith?”

Having been the receiver of the recommendations, Yon-Kyo provides a perfect segue into the film’s “peach montage” by voicing her approval of the referrals and likening it to…

The Belt of Faith

“The Belt of Faith” by Jung Jae-Il | Sony Music Entertainment

“The Belt of Faith” contrasts dramatically against the soundtrack pieces thus far with its grand, orchestral quality. While the “Conciliation” pieces remained slow in tempo and merely added texture to their scenes, this piece crashes onto the soundscape in a storm of slashing bows. As the shots become shorter and the pace of the film accelerates into a masterfully crafted montage (dissected by Nerdwriter here), this flurry of strings scores the entire process: from Ki-Taek landing the chauffeur job to the family tricking Yon-Kyo into believing that their housekeeper has tuberculosis.

For the Kim family, the seven minutes and 15 seconds of “The Belt of Faith” represent the final sprint of their race toward a better life. As the piece delivers its final, fiery passage—filled with timpani hits and ritardando—Ki-Taek squirts hot sauce on a napkin and raises the “bloody napkin” as “evidence” of the housekeeper’s severe illness. The piece, the vast majority of which delivers tension in a minor key, resolves to a resounding A Major chord as Yon-Kyo seems to pass out from her shock.

After three recommendations and an elaborate peach conspiracy, the ironically named “belt of faith” has been completed. The Kims have successfully infiltrated the Park household, and this final chord marks them reaching the summit in their upward mobility. It may all be downhill from here, but Bong Joon-ho and Jung Jae-il made sure the Kims got the best kind of rising action—entertaining to watch, delightful to listen to, and filled with content to dissect.