Asian cinema has been a passion of mine since I was about ten years old. Some of the best Asian cinema of the last twenty years has come from the South Korea. South Korea gave birth to one of my all-time favorite directors Park Chan-Wook and his amazing Vengeance trilogy of films. Probably the most prominent Korean director aside from Park Chan-Wook is director Bong Joon Ho. Bong Joon Ho has been successful stateside with his films The Host, Mother, and Snowpiercer. His most recent film Parasite is his most successful film yet. The film garnered incredibly favorable reviews and is now the winner of four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best International Feature. This is a big moment for Bong Joon Ho, but also a big moment for Korean cinema in general.
The storyline of the film revolves around the impoverished Kim family living in squalor in the city. Their basement level apartment is so poorly built that they must keep the drunks from urinating outside the apartment for fear of the urine lingering in their apartment. The Kim family is led by their unskilled father Ki-taek and equally unskilled mother Chung-sook. The Kim family do not have any jobs and scrape by doing whatever they can relying solely on their wits and schemes. They rely on stolen Wifi from other people to have any internet and use Whatsapp to make all phone calls. When Ki-woo Kim, the teenage boy of the family, is approached by his friend Min to teach English to a rich teen age girl for the summer, he jumps at the chance. His sister Ki-jung helps him to forge documents that show he is in the university. Arriving at the beautifully designed home of the Park family, the architecture of the house sticks out as being done by a famous architect. Ki-woo meets the naive mother of two children Yeon Ki-yo Park. She hires Ki-woo, now going by Kevin, to teach English to her daughter Da-hye. Seeing that the young boy in the house is an artist, Ki-woo seizes the opportunity to bring in his sister to pose as an art teacher. She convinces the mother that she can use art therapy to treat her child. Before long the entire family has infiltrated the house in jobs, using all sorts of trickery to become indispensable to the Park family. The film also has many tricks up its sleeve that will not be revealed until the second half.
Parasite is pretty fantastic. In 2019 (and 2020) class and wealth disparity have been topics that have loomed large in the films that we have seen ranging from Ready or Not, Knives Out, and others. Parasite approaches the issue with a satirical bend that works incredibly well. What is impressive is how the film manages to slowly morph from comedy to thriller to tragedy in the course of a couple hours. The finale of the film is arguably the most unforgettable sequence of any film this year, and will leave marks on any audience that sees the film. Like the best films, Parasite has something to say and it is willing to say it in the most blunt terms imaginable. The finale of the film is so damn unbearable because all of the characters in the film are so likable. I don’t want to say anything else in this review, but I can’t wait to talk to somebody else who has seen the film.
Bong Joon Ho has definitely reached a career peak with this film. The direction is flawless and feels effortless. It looks fantastic and just feels right thanks to great cinematography by Kyung-pyo Hong. The acting in the film is excellent. Kang-ho Song has been a fixture of the Korean film scene for two decades and he is perfection as the unskilled father Ki-taek. Yeo-jeong Jo is great as the clueless but caring mother of the Park family. Sun-kyun Lee is also well cast as the father of the Park family.
This is a strange and enjoyable film. The film manages to play on so many emotions in such a short amount of time. Viewers should be consistently surprised by the twists and turns of the script including an absolutely amazing sequence that involves rain. I look forward to seeing how it fares in the award season.
Video: How’s it look?
This is a bit tricky. And I’ll tell you why. This is now the third incarnation of this movie on a home video format. It originally came out as a Blu-ray released by Universal. That was followed a while later (why they didn’t come out at the same time is beyond me) by a 4K disc. Now Criterion has gotten their hands on the title and, let’s face it, they’re not exactly known for botching the way films look.
So, that being said, we’re at a point when everything new looks good, it’s even to the point where older films are now looking much better than when they premiered. I suppose that’s a tale for another time. Was there really anything wrong with the original Blu-ray? Not at all. The 4K improved upon that by adding some HDR, additional color detail and the like and now we’ve got Criterion’s Blu-ray. Oh and to throw another curve, there’s a black and white version of the film on the other disc. I won’t delve into the nuances of how this looks. It looks amazing and I have to say that I was more impressed with the black and white version that I thought I would be. If you’ve ever seen the chrome version of Mad Max, that’s sort of along the lines as what to expect.
But there’s a choice to be made. Some prefer having supplements and others like the technical merits. There’s no shortage of a version of this Best Picture winner to choose from, but that’s up to the viewer.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The Dolby Atmos track found on the 4K disc is also present here. It replaced the DTS HD Master Audio mix found on the Blu-ray and, again, there’s an uptick in how it sounds. I felt more of an atmosphere (pardon the pun) with this one. And while the track on the Blu-ray certainly didn’t disappoint, this is the one that’ll make you appreciate your Atmos setup, providing you have one. Having said that, it’s a good upgrade but not if the Blu-ray is already a part of your collection, then it’s not essential.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Disc One (Black and White)
Introduction – Bong Joon-ho gives us an introduction to his Best Picture winner.
Theatrical Trailer – The black and white trailer is featured.
New Korean Cinema – Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook discuss the evolution of Korean cinema over the past few years.
Cannes Press Conference – Bong Joon-ho and the cast are on display at Cannes where the film took home yet another top prize.
Lumiere Master Class – Bong Joon-ho and others discuss the film’s origins, its impact and some of the themes discussed within the film.
Storyboard Comparison – A scene, when the Park family leaves their home, is featured in storyboard and its final form.
Disc Two (Color)
Bong Joon-ho – The photographer in me loved this one. Bong Joon-ho discusses some of the framing choices as well as what lenses were used to create some effects in the film.
Hong Kyung-pyo – Cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo gives a very in-depth discussion about his approach to the visual look and feel of the film.
Lee Ha-jun – Production designer Lee Ha-jun essentially does the same thing as Hong Kyung-pyo, but from the production design standpoint.
Yang Jinmo – Editor Yang Jinmo give us the lowdown on how he edited the film.
Audio Commentary – Bong Joon-ho and critic Tony Rayns offer up a nice “commentary” on the film, its themes and other assorted goodies.
Illustrated Booklet – Critic Inkoo Kang provides an essay on the movie as well as some production stills in the illustrated booklet.
The Bottom Line
There haven’t been too many instances in which both an outstanding Blu-ray and 4K disc exist (this is by Criterion). Dr. Strangelove and Parasite are the only two that come to mind in which you might want to own the Criterion Blu-ray and the 4K (as of this writing, Criterion doesn’t do 4K discs). I dunno. I suppose if you had Universal’s 4K disc and wanted to swap that for the Criterion Blu-ray and keep the second disc with the black and white transfer, you might have the “ultimate” set? Again, it’s up to you. Criterion’s version excels with the amount of supplemental material and the black and white version whereas if you truly want the best picture (pardon the pun), you’d probably want the 4K disc. Decisions, decisions.