Parasite (black and white version)

I’ve already reviewed Parasite once, so will try not to retread any old ground, but with a new format and post-Oscars hindsight, maybe there are a few new things to say.

First, is it worthwhile seeing the Black and White version? Well, it certainly looks different to the original colour release. Sometimes it is not as good – for example, we miss the opulent greenness of the Park family flat, and there’s a bloody scene where monochrome can only intimate the vivid flowing crimson.

Having said that, there are other scenes which are improved by the new format. Black and white films are able to use light and shadow better, which increases the sense of vast depth inside the Park’s luxury apartment. And there are some scenes from a night time burst of lightning to a battle of water against piss (if you want to know more, just watch the bloody film) which appear much more spectacular.

In short, its worth seeing both versions, and this is a film which definitely bears repeated viewings.

Speaking of which, there are some things that are even better second time round. Above all, you get a much better sense how tightly structured the plot is. There are apparently random shots and actions whose full relevance only becomes clear when you know what the film is leading up to. You spend less time trying to wind your brain around what is going on out there, which helps you appreciate how neatly the different plot strands are woven together.

Also more noticeable is the visual use of different architectural levels to emphasize the social divisions between those living upstairs and the people struggling to exist below stairs. I think I made a comparison with Jordan Peele’s Us in my original review, saying that the modern architecture does not just flaunt wealth, but creates divisions which are just not possible in a one room flat. In Us’s case, these are divisions of race, and Parasite the divide is very much one of class.

Which brings us to one last point. I have read that some conservative critics were outraged that Parasite could win an Oscar. Pretty much every review that I read was much more positive, but I still think that there is one thing that many liberal critics who supported the film didn’t really get.

According to the liberals, for the first half of the film, we are very much on the side of the poor Kim family against the rich but feckless Parks. Then the Significant Plot Twist happens, and we are less inclined to identify fully with the Kims. The lesson that liberals draw is that there are good and bad people of all classes, and we should not be so quick to judge.

This is an argument which could be based on what we see on the screen. Nevertheless I think that Director Bong is actually making a subtly different point, which is, to coin a phrase, that social being determines social consciousness. The main thing is not that some people are nice and others not, but – as is explictily said within the film – that only certain people can afford to be nice.

So we have some people who smell a little, and others who turn up their noses at the smell, but neither bears personal responsibility for this. It is just the situation they are born into. Similarly, there are those who live in a luxurious purpose-built house, and those who have to scrabble to steal free Wifi, and these different social circumstances affect the decisions that they are able to make.

The Kims may be able to temporarily take over the Park’s household, but unless there are significant changes to the social order, this can never last. And for most of the time, the relationship between the Kims and the Parks is abusive. On one occasion, when Daddy Kim is not keen on what he was doing, Daddy Park reminds them that it is his job to do what he is told and obey orders. If he is lucky, these orders will be given in a friendly tone, but he must obey them all the same.

If you are struggling to survive, social niceties go out of the window. And that’s before we get to the Serious Plot Spoilers, which we won’t mention here.

Watching the film for a second time, I was slightly disappointed by the ending which implied that the only way in which the Kims can escape their fate is to accumulate personal wealth, but this is a film not a manifesto, so this is a minor point. Nonetheless, I do think that this lack of ambition is part of the reason why, for all its greatness, Parasite doesn’t quite have the power of Les Misérables (not that one).

Any mild criticism aside, Parasite was certainly the best film nominated for an Oscar this year, and when was the last time that the best nominee won? And there is enough to watch, including features that you didn’t necessarily notice first time round to merit multiple visits.

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