PARASITE: BLACK & WHITE EDITION (2019)
Bong Joon-ho's dark satire masterpiece returns with a monochrome makeover which accentuates the film’s bleak shades of class divide
“When the colours are gone, you can focus more on the actors’ facial expressions and their eyes,” promised Director Bong when asked about the black and white incarnation of his all-conquering Parasite.
Bong states it will give viewers a “different” and “strange” experience. For a film so different and strange already, this is quite a billing.
The director harbours a long-term fondness for monochrome films, insisting they offer a more intimate visual experience.
His comic family drama Mother (2009) was also afforded a black and white release, providing viewers with a fresh take on its suspenseful and surprising twists and turns.
Before we unpack how Parasite fares in this more classic cinema palette, it is worth comprehending why a modern film would ever feel the need to use black and white? With most people afforded a rich colour-filled view of the world, why would a visual experience such as cinema look to restrict that option?
The black and white experience is undeniably a differing one, but not a lesser one. For the right film, it is an improvement. Its advantages are that it allows filmmakers to provide an aesthetic which changes the textures, tones and visual markings of a film.
It has the twin power of making a film seem more real, perhaps aligning itself with a certain time period. Park Kwang-su's A Single Spark (1995) does this superbly by making the more recent timeline in colour and the one from the past in black and white.
It can also make films seem more ‘unreal’, as real life is in colour for most of us, perhaps providing a dream-like or surrealist impression of the film’s world.
There is also a nostalgic element, one that Bong himself acknowledges: “It may be vanity on my part, but when I think of the classics, they're all in black and white,” he said at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.
So what does a black and white Parasite provide?
While the dankness of the Kim’s dingy small semi-basement apartment is emphasised in a manner you may expect, the light and glimmer of the Park’s elaborate and expensive hilltop house are also brilliantly highlighted.
The street shot as Ki-woo approaches the Park house for the first time gives you a wash of brightness that you had previously been denied in the opening scenes with the Kims.
Those hallway lights and the ones leading down to the basement in the Park house seem to pop more with a black and white effect, though this might be contingent on knowing their significance from a prior in-colour viewing.
Bong’s use of lines throughout - where the Parks and Kims are separated by linear marks - is also highlighted further, with the noise of colour dimmed so we can better see the divides.
Parasite, and Bong in particular, have been noted for their Hitchcockian styling and we can certainly more easily envision that comparison here.
There is no doubt there are some losses too. The rich red of the hot sauce, which is at first splashed onto food and then a tissue as fake blood, offers a stark warning with the implications of danger that match that colour. When they are dulled here, an edge is softened.
Is it still better for first-time viewers of Parasite to experience the full colour version on the initial outing, but those revisiting the majesty of Bong’s magnum opus will find plenty of fresh territory in this monochrome variant.