Blu-ray Review: Parasite [Criterion] | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, November 23rd, 2020  


Studio: The Criterion Collection

Oct 29, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

At this point, Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite – mere months after it became the first foreign language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars – is a known quantity in the mainstream. This isn’t a hidden gem being unearthed by the Criterion Collection but part of a growing trend of identifying contemporary films that are of the moment. While a pact with Netflix has resulted in editions of Marriage Story, Roma, and The Irishman – which has been somewhat derided by die-hards in the comment sections following each announcement – others like Parasite and Celine Sciamma’s wonderful Portrait of a Lady on Fire have gotten the special treatment as well.

Almost universally beloved, Parasite has yet to really see a “backlash” moment (though point me in the direction of any internet comment section on the topic and I’m sure we’ll find the naysayers). It’s a fantastic, multi-layered film dissecting and analyzing class structure while skewering capitalism and capitalist urges while simultaneously playing out as a thrilling genre film wrought with tension and mystery and one of the most satisfying twists in recent memory. It’s somehow subversive and crowd-pleasing at the same time.

So there’s really no point in re-litigating Parasite or running through all the things it does particularly well or which moments stick out upon multiple viewings – though, it is worth noting that a second watch only helps accentuate its flavors instead of dulling them, which is an impressive thing for a movie built so much around its surprises. With no edition of Portrait of a Lady on Fire easily available, a Criterion edition made a certain amount of sense. The same goes for the Netflix releases. Parasite was already on Blu-Ray only months before. Could Criterion possibly justify double-dipping so quickly? Especially considering their eventual release of Bong’s Memories of Murder may be more in demand?

The short answer is yes. The prior release is pretty bare-bones, featuring a Q+A with Bong and company at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and a trailer for the film. The two-disc Criterion release is far more extensive and offers a deep dive into the process of making the film and Bong’s own thought process. Specifically, there are interviews produced exclusively by Criterion with Bong, director of photography Hong Kyung Pyo, editor Yang Jinmo, and production designer Lee Ha Jun exploring the control and precision in the creation of the film while also maintaining a sense of fun and discovery within. Bong is especially animated when discussing his love of comics and how the storyboards created for Parasite were actually released as a sort-of graphic novel.

One of the more impressive aspects of Parasite from a production standpoint is how little was shot on location and how much CGI was used. The house where much of the action takes place was a set constructed for the film and the upstairs exterior was computer generated. The lush trees lining the yard were a combination of real and animated because they were supposedly too expensive to use exclusively. Where CGI is often a visual eyesore in contemporary blockbuster films, here it’s used, if not sparingly, more judiciously. The CGI is never at the forefront, but is instead used to heighten the textures that are already in place and it’s pretty seamless.

The second disc also features an alternate black-and-white version of the film. In the introduction to this version, Bong admits that it wasn’t a necessity but something that he wanted to try with this film and his 2009 movie Mother. He added that he was pleased with the results as the black-and-white forces the eye to focus more on the characters’ faces. In a movie that is so dependent on the performances and the characters at the heart, this does generate a fascinating experience even though neither sound nor editing were altered to coincide. Still, as unique a feature as it is, Parasite loses a layer of its visual commentary by stripping away the color. Where the rich Park family’s house is lush with greens and bright colors, the impoverished Kim family’s basement apartment is awash in browns and dull tones. The shifting textures strongly sell the stark disparity between these two families, and while that notion is obviously not lost in the black-and-white version, the color is deployed with a sense of purpose and is not just what happens to be in sight.

Bong was also motivated by filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Jean Renoir, and Akira Kurosawa and their work in black-and-white. He says there are so few opportunities now to make films in black-and-white, and that it was simply an itch that needed scratching. Bong is an avid film-goer, and this is made especially clear in an accompanying featurette where he and Pak Chan-wook (Oldboy, The Handmaiden) talk about New Korean Cinema (which is also a program on the Criterion Channel this month). It’s a fascinating and fun lark

If there’s a negative to any part of this release, it’s the slight disappointment with the cover art. While the morse code on the slip case is a clever touch, it’s only obscuring a version of the regular poster/cover that has made the rounds since the festival circuit in 2019. Yes, the design is almost synonymous with the movie and perhaps creating something new from scratch would have resulted in something worse or less representative of the film and its varying tones, but it does come across as decidedly low-effort compared to many of their other releases (again, look at Portrait of a Lady on Fire).

Additionally, there is a commentary track with Bong and critic Tony Rayns, a Master Class presentation featuring Bong from the 2019 Lumiere Festival, storyboard comparisons, and an excellent essay by Hollywood Reporter critic Inkoo Kang. It’s a jam-packed release that more than justifies itself, and is honestly rather impressive in terms of its turnaround.

Now, here’s hoping Memories of Murder isn’t too far behind.



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