Killed by a landscape! This nearly happens in Bong Joon-ho's multiple prize-winning film Parasite. Chekhov famously said that "one must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off," so I did wonder what the significance would be of the scholar's rock in the shape of a mountain range that gets given to the character Ki-Woo near the start of the film. The climactic scene is referred to in an interesting Hollywood Reporter article (spoiler alert). Torrential rain floods the home of Ki-woo (played by Choi Woo-shik) and his family...
As they wade through murky water, each searching for their most important belongings, the camera cuts to Ki-woo's perspective, looking down. There, the rock — seeming to defy the laws of nature — rises from the depths into his waiting hands. "In the script, the rock didn't originally float," Choi recalls. "But when we were shooting, director Bong was like, 'You know, I think it would be better if the stone floats up through the water.' I remember thinking, 'Whoa. What?' "
In the scene that follows, as the family lies on the floor of a crowded rescue shelter, Ki-woo tells his dad, Ki-taek, played by Bong's regular collaborator Song Kang-ho, that he feels as if the rock is following him. "Essentially, I think it represents this desire in the heart of Ki-woo not to give up on the idea that he can become the kind of guy who can find a way to give his family a better life," Song explains. But in the end, the rock that Ki-woo willed to be a metaphor is symbolic only in the manner of Sisyphus, or plainly literal as in "hard as a rock."
"All it ends up doing for Ki-woo is bashing his skull in," Song says.
Eve Willis wrote a piece about the Parasite landscape rock in The Guardian back in February. She made a connection with Uncut Gems, another excellent film in which rocks represent the aspiration to get ahead in an unfair society. When wealth is intangible and elusive, floating in an unreal world of bitcoins and mad property values, 'faith in the promise of stones and jewels makes abrupt sense.' In Parasite,
'When Ki-woo is presented with the rock, he coos: “It’s so metaphorical.” In the final scenes, we see the origins of the viewing stone, as a pair of hands pluck the rock from a pristine stream. We hear Ki-woo’s message to his estranged, imprisoned father: he is making “a long-term plan … I’m going to make a lot of money.” The viewer watches, knowing this rock was used to split Ki-woo’s head open.'
I will conclude by quoting one more article (on Artnet), where New York art historian Kyunghee Pyun provided some context for the landscape rock (suseok) in Parasite. 'The golden age of suseok collecting was during the Joseun dynasty
(1392–1897), but they regained popularity in the 1980s among a class of
businessmen (like Parasite’s newly wealthy Mr. Park).'
"Those in the know “don’t collect loose, granuled rock, or get a rock that might break.” Surfaces with a bit of a pattern or a wave, like the striated suseok in Parasite, are also more desirable, Pyun notes. “Round, three-dimensional is better than sort of a thin slab of stone,” she adds. “Almost like a porcelain type of quality, it should be seen from all directions.”
Prized suseok are found in nature. Ideally, they’re never altered by human hands. “In China or Japan, in order to accentuate the dramatic effect, they put varnish types of materials or trim a little bit,” Pyun notes. “But for Korean rock collectors, the essence is you never touch it. As is, the nature is the beauty of the rock.”'