In this interview series, Gabby Kere introduces some of the most talented members of the Bong-hive who channelled their passion and fandom for Parasite into artworks so pleasing to the eye that they demand space on your bedroom wall. Read the previous parts published on the Curzon Blog.

Nicole Dai is a New York based engineer, graphic designer and unashamed lover of coffee and K-pop. She started drawing at a very young age, as her own way to fight boredom and to entertain herself as an only child. Her passion for art led her to a major career change when she decided to quit her first job as an engineer to persue graphic design. Today as a junior designer at Shutterstock she feels she finally found the occupation where she can combine her interests for technology with her creative talent. I talked to Nicole about her alternative poster for Parasite that is so awesome, even Saul Bass would proudly hang it on his wall.


Nicole Dai

As a graphic designer Nicole is very familiar with the many challenges movie poster makers face. She shared with me her simple formula to success: “The first thing that any poster has to do, is to grab people’s attention. Especially with all the information overload nowadays. You see movie poster after movie poster in a subway station. How do you make people look twice?”


That’s a good point. I wonder if we are getting numb to certain types of images around us and artists have to constantly up their game to hit beyond our tolerance level. But noticing a poster is not quite enough for success. That’s where Dai’s second advice comes to the picture.

“Show just enough to make people interested in seeing the movie but not spoil too much. That is definitely an art.” And lastly, it has to be recognisable so when people look back at it, they will instantly remember a scene from the film or their experience watching it.”


Hey, Hollywood, are you taking notes?


“I would really love to see more diverse styles in movie posters. Since films are full of motifs, important themes, and color, the posters should also share these creative elements.”


Yes, Hollywood! Is this too much to ask for?

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Now, let’s talk Parasite! The poster was part of the Oscar Pop! 2020 collection from Shutterstock which is an annual series that challenges in-house designers to create alternative posters for that year's Oscar Best Picture - she begins and explains the rules. “Each designer chooses a movie and an iconic pop artist as inspiration and leverages Shutterstock’s collection of over 300 million photos, vectors, and illustrations as a design toolbox.” When it came to the decision which film to pick for this challenge Nicole didn’t hesitate: “Among all the movies I watched last year, Parasite was the one that left me in awe.”


Director Bong uses a wide range of visually provoking elements and props in different shapes and colours that inspired many alternative poster artists. The triangular teepee tent, the sphere shape of the peach and the lamps, the rectangles of windows, door frames and stairs are the basic building elements of Bong’s as well as Nicole’s initial designs. “The movie gave me so many different things to choose from – she admits as she shows a few simple drawings of various approaches through which she tried to capture the essence of the film. “I probably went through the movie four times, and every time I would find something that I’d never noticed before.”

She tells me about the two main challenges she faced along the design process: "The amount of symbolism in Parasite makes it a choice overload."


First, to communicate a very abstract message in a very simple but visually strong image: “it was a challenge to boil it down to its essence while making sure it was instantly recognizable.”  It is a major task on its own for any poster designer. But this was a challenge with an extra twist: “I also had to find a pop artist as inspiration and use only Shutterstock assets.”

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Nicole wanted to pay homage to one of her favourite artists, the legendary Saul Bass, by borrowing from his famously minimalist design toolkit. After researching his work, she felt inspired by Bass’s easily recognisable signature style and philosophy: "try to reach for a simple, visual phrase that tells you what the picture is all about and evokes the essence of the story."


“I used a limited colour palette, simple geometric shapes and hand drawn lines to create depth and show the viewer where to look.” I think Nicole's execution is spot on. The contrast of the dark blocks and the narrow light lines lead my attention to one direction: upwards. It’s already so metaphoric! Even the slightly tilted posture of the silhouette is inviting me to climb the stairs to the top. Having seen the movie, I can really appreciate this excellent design element, that captures something as abstract as the Kim family’s struggle and aspiration for climbing up on the social ladder. The close arrangement of dark blocks also reminds me of the claustrophobic, narrow and dark streets of the Kim’s lowland neighbourhood, also the long driveway that leads all the way up to the Park’s residence.


Her sketches show how many ideas and variations she had to sift through before arriving at the final design. “During the entire process, I had to constantly take a step back and make sure only the most essential things are added to the design.”


Nicole consciously chose to keep the poster monochrome and only added a few colours to bring the main stage of the events to the spotlight. Although the Park’s extravagant luxury mansion here is represented as a pile of simple blocks, it’s still the most attractive and eye-catching part of the image. Dai’s use of colour is very evocative and purposeful: After following the line from the bottom to the top my eyes settle on the bright orange rectangle that looks as if something was buried under the surface. (Could it be maybe an unexpected plot twist?) This is possibly the smartest easter egg placement I’ve ever seen.

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But the teasers that were carefully curated and strategically placed (or purposely left out) on so many other Parasite artworks weren’t Nicole's main focus in the process: “To be honest, I didn’t really think too much about the plot twist while designing. It was all about the motifs. Parasite is a film full of motifs but in the end, I only showed the staircase since it is truly essential to the movie. It is everywhere, from the Kim’s semi-basement to the Park’s beautiful house. It is also the best at showcasing the positions of the two families.”

The word "position" made me think how director Bong’s favourite prop is always being referred to as the symbol of the gap between rich and poor. I think the stairs could also be interpreted as a bridge that connects the families from the two ends and allows them to reach each other, interact with each other – and maybe one day meet in the middle? But I guess maybe the bridge analogy has way too positive connotations to have a place in Mr. Bong’s famously bleak universe?


Dai interprets the stair metaphor differently. “I also thought about the scene where Ki-Woo writes to his father and sees the staircase as a sign of hope, - She recalls the final scene from the film and adds her realistic but sad conclusion: “but I wonder if there is actually hope at all.”

If you are interested in Nicole Dai’s other works check out her portfolio