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Parasite (The Criterion Collection)

Other // R // October 27, 2020
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ryan Keefer | posted November 24, 2020 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Man, it seems like a million years ago when we were all sitting around, marveling at the filmmaking genius of Bong Joon Ho on a wider level, right? I mean, lots of us already knew from seeing Snowpiercer or Mother, but seeing his work praised almost universally was cool but also strange.

Like most of his other work, Bong wrote the screenplay which he directed. The film is in modern-day Seoul, focusing on two families; the Kims live in a semi-basement, searching for free wifi and living on whatever they can to subsist. The matriarch (Kim Ki-taek) is played by Song Kang-ho, who's worked with Bong off and on since Memories of Murder. His wife Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) is the wife and mother, the children are the son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-Shik, Okja) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam). A friend of Ki-woo's suggest he fake a job acting as a tutor named "Kevin" for Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), daughter of the Park family, a well-to-do family living in a breathtaking house. Ki-jung is brought in as "Jessica," a friend of Kevin's and an art therapist for the younger son. The father Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun) and mother Choi Yeon-gyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) round out the white collar family. The entirely of the Kims infiltrate the Parks through various forms of servitude and enrich themselves in the process.

It is interesting to see how the Kims' embedding of themselves into the Parks' lives transforms. Having them take hold of their day to day (kind of like…a Parasite!) is entertaining to watch, in that you root for them to do it. The Parks are detached in their lives, I get it, it should happen! But the part I think that elevates it into the regard is that there is an evolution to the occupation that gives it an authenticity. Mr. Kim is the last one to join his family at the Parks' house, and he seems to have a differing opinion to his family. It is not a change of heart, it is like he sees the good in the Parks and the family that his wife and children may not agree with, but it is an outlet for the story to go towards and Kim Ki-taek's shorthand with Bong allows this to come through nicely.

The story moving along as it does allows for a couple of things in it that could make a leap in belief too large and not to be coy are things that I should not get into here; the first is the second act revelation that well, you'll know it when you see it. And the second thing is the ending, which some friends of mine have expressed disappointment in. And given what the film explores before that, I don't know where else you could expect a film to go and not be disappointed. It is Bong's final message for the viewer, a thumb in the eye to show you that nothing will change, and barring upheaval (which America sort of experienced in the summer?) should be expected to.

I don't know whether Parasite will be a touchstone film down the road, a modern retelling of Rules of the Game, albeit with a new culture. But the film's messages now certainly remain relevant, with performances that are all part of a striking message, while maintaining some of the essence of Korean cinema.

The Blu-rays:
The Video:

Slightly jumping ahead, the Criterion version of Parasite has two versions; the color version on Disc One (with a 4K master supervised by Bong) and a black and white version on Disc Two. Both are presented in 2.39:1 and look outstanding. Black levels in the color version are deep and provide superb contrast in the film, the climax of the film in the middle of the day has whites that are blinding but in a lovingly reproduced way. The black and white version was a conscious decision by Bong to do (similar to a version he did for Mother), and he the contrasts for that version are also sharp, with image detail in both versions looking clear as can be, with no artifacts, haloing or anything else to distract. Both versions are great and look the part.

The Sound:

Dolby Atmos (for both versions) is the soundtrack of choice, with music coming through clearly. The rumble of a large display case bleeds into the subwoofer (and earlier in the film the driving sequences are natural), rainstorms are immersive and convincing. Dialogue in both versions is consistent and well-balanced and in both versions the dynamic range of the film does get moments to test out directional effects to great persuasion. Just like the video, both are perfect.

The Extras:

Well, the black and white version of the film is already covered! Also, there are extras for it on the second disc, starting with an introduction by Bong (5:55) where he talks about this version and its place in his filmography, along with his work on it and the challenges encountered during its making. A press conference with Bong and the ensemble after their screening at Cannes is next (28:39), followed by an interview with Bong and Betrand Tavernier at a French film festival (1:22:12). Bong discusses working in Korean film, his fondness for French films and releasing snakes in a movie theater? He also discusses inspirations and evolutions for his work and his process on writing and directing, and touches upon the angles of a film or a venue, including the venue the group is in, and he even shares pictures of his dog at one point. It's a nice piece to sit through. "New Korean Cinema" (12:19) is where Bong and Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) discuss their respective cinematic inspirations, and societal impacts and evolutions in South Korean cinema. Bong shares his first memories on seeing Park's films, and both men talk about the Korean conflict between South and North, along with their camaraderie, and a similar camaraderie amongst directors in the country. A storyboard comparison (6:59) is next, followed by a trailer (1:34) for the black and white version.

The disc with the color version has a commentary for it with Bong and critic Tony Rayns, where Bong converses in English with Rayns about the film. It was done via teleconference during the spring of 2020 and gets into talks about sets and designs, and working with Korean children for films. Bong takes a little while to warm up to the track but when he does, he asks Rayns for his thoughts on a moment or on a larger component of the film, and overall is a nice track to listen to. Next is a conversation between Bong and critic Darcy Pacquet, a sort of word association game where Bong covers the ideas and goals for this story, what he likes/dislikes about his work, and how the set influences the shots in the film, and spotting various CG effects (more than you think!), and on using Atmos as the film's soundtrack. Like most of the other interviews, this is interesting as well. Pacquet also conducts interviews with Hong Kyung-po (21:03), Lee Ha Jun (22:21) and Yang Jinmo (15:30) which examine the cinematography, production design and editing, respectively. Each member discusses working with Bong and the challenges the film had, on ‘Bong-tail' and designing a house with a film shoot in mind, along with Bong's process in general. Hong also gets into the black and white version a little bit deeper than Bong's introduction does, and that is a nice complement to it, and overall Criterion got everything out of this that I think they could.

Final Thoughts:

When it was announced that Criterion would be including Parasite as part of their library, given the releases of the film beforehand I was looking forward to seeing what they did with it. And they deliver in a big way. Thoughts from Bong and collaborators? Check. Casual interviews and commentary by Bong? Yep. Korean cinema primer with two of the most visible directors of same? Yep. Oh, and there's the black and white version that should also be experienced as much as the color one. This is an easy DVDTalk Collector Series recommendation from me.

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