A still from the black and white version of Parasite.

Parasite (Black and White)

Dept. of Deeply Desaturated Metaphors


This isn’t a review of Parasite. The Oscar-winning movie has already been dissected and deconstructed under, over, sideways, and down since its release in May 2019. Suffice to say that this is one of those rare critical darlings that actually exceeds expectations. What’s more, I maintain that the best way to experience this masterful meditation on society, class, and the perils of capitalism is by knowing as little as possible before going to watch it. There are no spoilers here.

I want you to think back to that iconic scene in Psycho. Those voyeuristic three minutes, both fascinating and repulsive. 78 camera set-ups. 52 cuts. Janet Leigh in the shower. The negative space that gives way to the silhouette of a knife-wielding killer. The blood in the water. The slow dissolve from the shower drain to the lifeless eye of Marion Crane. It is a cinematic moment made all the more chilling by the fact that we experience it in various shades of grey. A desaturation of colour that somehow renders the scene hyperreal.

Now try to picture it in colour. (Well, you don’t really have to try. You can just watch Gus Van Sant’s piss poor and utterly pointless shot-by-shot remake.) It isn’t quite the same is it? All of that blood red just gets in the way, muddying an otherwise stark spectacle.

Colour can sometimes be distracting. Removing it allows for two things. The first being an added focus on the narrative. It’s akin to stripping away the lyrics to a pop song and bringing the music into focus. Taking away that one layer, forcing a new perspective, and letting you pay attention to details you might have otherwise missed. The second being an added focus on the aesthetic. On how light and shadow affect texture and depth, on how it changes a movie thematically.

The Kim family constructing pizza boxes in the movie Parasite.

At the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Bong Joon-ho joked that he had this idea to convert his movies into black and white as a sure-fire way to ensure their elevation to classic status. Growing up in Korea, he had watched all of the greats , at home, on a greyscale television. And so, his notion of a classic movie is inextricably tied to it being colourless.

He didn’t have to of course. Not with Parasite. Not with any of his meticulously crafted movies. But I, for one, am thrilled that such a thing as a black and white version of Parasite exists.

Parasite in black and white feels like a different movie. When rendered in monochrome, all of the visual intricacies that Bong Joon-ho uses to convey the class divide seem heightened. The rain. The stairs. The mirrored gloss of the haves versus the scummy disrepair of the have-nots. There is so much more texture and tone that it creates a dreamlike view of the world.

I don’t know how they did it, but Bong Joon-ho and Hong Kyung-pyo have managed to restore some of that old-fashioned film glow. There is a pallid perfection to modern digital projections. Where every pixel is precisely where it should be and transmitting the exact right amount of light. And yet, watching this version of Parasite, I cannot help but feel that they have somehow recaptured the sheer randomness of the way light refracts through silver halide. This is especially apparent towards the end of the movie where a rainstorm, which from one perspective, is something beautiful and delicate, quickly shifts into something quite catastrophic.

The Parasite movie poster.

Not every movie works with the colour removed. The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, for example, are glorious in Technicolor and should never be seen in any other way. But Parasite, like Logan Noir and Mad Max: Fury Road – Black & Chrome, has a complex narrative that works even better when steeped in shades of grey.

I’m not saying that one version is better than the other. I’m saying that these are two completely different experiences of the same movie.

I realise that asking you to watch a movie, first in colour, and then again in black and white, is very much an indulgence. But it is a worthy one. Real life is in colour, but sometimes, a powerful parable like this one can feel even more real when presented without.

Parasite in black and white is now playing exclusively at GSC’s Aurum Theatre in The Gardens Mall, Kuala Lumpur and The Mall, Mid Valley Southkey in Johor Bahru.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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