Parasite [Black & White] (2020)
"The fraught horror, the desperation, it’s all so much clearer when there’s little else to distract."
Fantastically acted, tightly plotted and expertly grappling with complicated notions of class, Parasite is a phenomenon of a film. As near perfect as it is, there’s apparently scope for more – watching in black and white feels like an entirely new experience to watching in colour.
Without colour, the Park house is no longer obviously surrounded by lush, luxurious greenery, and the wealth lavishly but tastefully on display no longer catches the eye immediately. Instead, it fades into the background – which means we don’t focus on the material, but the personal. This is where this version of Parasite is at its most excellent.
With the settings blurring into shades of grey, our focus is naturally pulled to the dynamic performances delivered by the cast. The subtleties of Song Kang Ho’s performance, his changes of expression, from open joy to quietly suppressed rage, are particularly brought into the spotlight. Similarly, as Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik) takes his first tour of the Park house, his reaction is the standout. We get a better, deeper understanding of the characters’ emotions, of what drives their decisions, when the actors’ performance is the most engaging part of every scene.
"Poverty is a dark trap underground, while wealth, even the illusion of it, is feeling the sun on your skin."
The lack of colour is compensated by more striking lighting changes. In the Park house, the looming, empty doorway leading down to the basement isn’t so much dark as a pure black rectangle. It’s more overtly menacing, and when the film takes us downstairs, the greyness is unrelenting. The only lighting comes from the fluorescent lights on the ceiling, and they do little to drive away the shadows. Later, back upstairs, when Moon-gwang (Chang Hyae Jin) and Geun-se (Myeong-hoon Park) reminisce of happier times in the house, the change in lighting is astonishing – we’re thrown from the darkness into airy sunlight. The difference between those who belong upstairs and those who live downstairs, between the rich and the poor, is all the more arresting when the key visual change is from light to dark and vice versa. Again, with less to distract the eye the film’s thematic concerns become clearer. Poverty is a dark trap underground, while wealth, even the illusion of it, is feeling the sun on your skin.
Parasite in black and white seems distilled to its essentials, to what makes it such an outstanding film – the performance, its theme of class struggle and its masterful score. The discordant, ominous notes lurking through the scenes in the basement and the loud, orchestral music when the Kim family are forced into hectic action stands out so much more obviously when the visuals aren’t as immediately attention grabbing.
"With the settings blurring into shades of grey, our focus is naturally pulled to the dynamic performances delivered by the cast."
The real drawbacks to this cut make themselves most apparent towards the end of the film. The most unnerving aspect of the garden party is its use of juxtaposition. When Geun-se joins the bright and sunlit party in the verdant green garden, in dark clothes with his face smeared with red blood, it’s terrifying. In black and white, this effect is diminished. The blood splattering the party food – a shot as quick and striking as a snakebite in colour – is so muted in black and white that it loses its sting. But, again, we’re hugely drawn to the actors, to the emotion on display – the fraught horror, the desperation, it’s all so much clearer when there’s little else to distract. This scene plays out like a nightmare in both versions of Parasite, just with different points of emphasis.
Overall, this cut is certainly a different experience to the original, and so it’s not a matter of which is better or worse, but rather which experience you’d prefer to have. First time viewers would be better off starting in colour, because that way the tighter focus of the black and white version can be better enjoyed. The only reason this review isn’t five stars is that there are some things lost without colour – but again, this isn’t strictly a bad thing. Definitely a version worth watching, but only for the second time.