Parasite: Black and White Edition

Parasite is being re-released in UK cinemas, this time in black and white. An unnecessary move, surely? Darling of the festival circuit, a bona fide theatrical success and unprecedented Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards, this is a record-breaking film with nothing left to prove. And another film, another filmmaker, would have taken the plaudits and gracefully retreated. Clearly, this is director Bong Joon-Ho’s “Hold my beer” moment.

All power to him. Bong is Parasite‘s not-so-secret weapon. An exuberant, infectious personality that carries the film on a wave of good nature. See also Guillermo del Toro, or Hitchcock’s persona with which he so successfully promoted his most famous films. Indeed, a black and white re-release for Parasite puts it even closer to it’s clear progenitors, Psycho, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, and Ealing comedies. Note also that Psycho’s black and white aesthetic was by choice for Hitchcock, who had been working in colour for several years by that point. Parasite is arguably a black and white film in all but colour.

This change is no lazy gimmick and I don’t think we’ll be seeing a new Snowpiercer anytime soon. Parasite was already a gorgeous looking film but aside from a couple of moments that suffer slightly from being re-graded, the black and white version has a powerful, claustrophobic quality. Hong Kyung-pyo’s rich photography is strikingly beautiful and detail is pronounced throughout. Shadows draw more ominously in the Park’s modern home; the long glass window makes for a stunning contrast of light and dark, accentuating the theme of a middle-class family able to observe from luxury the world at their behest. Meanwhile, the Kim family’s basement with their tiny window appears almost more harshly cramped, if that were possible. Objects take on more relevance and detail, especially those illuminated behind glass.

The story of one poor family scheming to take control of their more privileged neighbours is like a heist movie meets psychological thriller and much of the film’s design is suitably contrived and controlled. So while it’s hard to know how different it might have been had black and white always been the intention, much like Hitchcock favouring studio work, the set design lends itself to a bit of tinkering. If you have already seen Parasite it might take a moment to grow accustomed to the lack of colour, but it’ll give you a new perspective on the layered narrative.

The itch for unnecessary black and white versions was most recently scratched by George Miller’s Mad Max Fury Road and James Mangold’s Logan, bothinfluenced by classic film disciplines. They were also both behemoths in mainstream cinema, now joined by a subtitled South Korean film that refuses to know its place, upsets Donald Trump and takes advantage of the lockdown easing to get a second run.

In an ironic reflection on the film’s themes, cinema needs Parasite and its ilk more than it thinks if it wants to remain relevant. Bong Joon-Ho produced a miracle last year, one that remains a testament to the kind of brazen film-making passion we should be embracing. 

Parasite: Black and White Edition is available to rent on Curzon Home Cinema from July 24.

Jon Meakin

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

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