Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a revelation in black and white

A new monochrome edition of the film reveals an even deeper level of storytelling craft — and raises the question (again) of how the awards season overlooked these performances

Parasite in color is an undeniably great film, but I have to admit that after my first viewing, some months ago, I found myself admiring it more than enthralled. The performances, the puzzle-tight structure of the narrative, and production design were awe-inspiring, but it also felt a bit too chilly to engage with on an emotional level. It was a bit like admiring an elaborate gallery installation; there was an awesome level of craft and storytelling on display, but it was perhaps too much to absorb.

But it kept me thinking. As time passed, I found myself admiring it more and more. I even found myself in a heated Facebook exchange over its merits and managed to extract myself before the unfriending began. Still, I approached the newly released black and white edition with mixed feelings. My desire to see it was at a nearly fan-boy level, but I also wondered if I was buying into the hype. I also wondered if I would even manage to stay awake for the late screening.

Parasite in black and white is visually exquisite. Remastered by the director and his team before the film opened at Cannes, each shot has been carefully balanced. This isn’t just the original images with the color drained out. More than that, the new visual scheme has the effect of refocusing everything about the story. Humor that had always been there is now laugh-out-loud funny. The intricate physical choreography of the blocking now seems almost like ballet, particularly when all three families find themselves unexpectedly occupying the same spaces. (I’m trying to remain spoiler-free here.)

Some of this comes from any repeated viewing. There are lines of dialogue and background details that have new meaning once we know where the story is taking us. I hadn’t previously picked up on the fact that the mother, Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang), was a champion tennis player in her youth, something that is revealed in a brief glimpse of a framed photograph on the wall of the family’s semi-basement home. There’s also the wonder of watching the barely masked layers of regret and dread pass over the housekeeper’s face after she wheels her possessions down the street after being expelled and considers the one thing she left behind. (Again, no spoilers.) Even the dialogue rises to new levels, as when the Kim family dissects the wealthy Park family. When Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) says, admiringly, “They have no creases,” his wife responds, “It all gets ironed out. Money is an iron.”

Yet the biggest shock is how the monochrome edition highlights the remarkable acting by the entire cast. Its a curious side effect of draining out all the color and replacing it with more shades of light and dark: Just as the contrast is amplified between basement living and the garishly bright manicured Park lawn, light and shadow bring out the marvelous gradations of facial expression that pass across the actors’ faces. How is it possible that these performances were overlooked in all of the major awards? Well, that part, at least, isn’t much of a mystery, but it is a true shame.

Author of fiction and non-fiction; dog guy; bad boxer. New book, City of Dogs, is just out now from Avery/Penguin.

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