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As one of the year’s most critically lauded films and one that continues to smash all expectations (and is heavily tipped to claim the best picture Oscar from under the noses of several major Hollywood titles), Parasite is for many already an undeniable cinematic masterpiece.
But for director Bong Joon Ho, it was his desire to create such a work of art that drove him to cut a black-and-white version of film.
“I think 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, where he dropped in during a chaotic awards season schedule to give a master class and present the world premiere of the new Parasite edit. “So I had this idea that if I turned my films into black and white then they’d become classics.”
Bong explained that, as a child growing up in South Korea, his mother wouldn’t allow him to visit the cinema for fear of “bacteria,” so he watched all the masterpieces at home on a black-and-white TV.
“Of course, there was a time when all films were in black and white,” he said, pointing out that many of the great masters, such as Akira Kurosawa and Alfred Hitchcock, had both black-and-white and color periods. “Our generation has no chance, but thanks to digital technology, we can do it.”
The new version of Parasite was actually made before the original color edition had its premiere in Cannes, where it won the Palme d’Or. Bong, with his director of photographer and colorist, worked on the new grading shot by shot.
“You can’t just put it in a computer and turn it into black and white,” he said, adding that he faced extra difficulties because he hadn’t considered black and white when working on the film’s production design or art direction, making particular scenes — such as the flooding, with mud water floating around — require extra consideration. .
With the color removed, he said, viewers were given a stronger sense of contrast between the rich family and the poor.
“We can focus more on the texture,” he said, emphasizing the “very glossy and clean” surfaces in the house of the rich family.
Ahead of the new version’s world premiere in Rotterdam, Bong — who also made a similar version of his fourth feature, Mother — said he had only seen the black-and-white edit twice himself, and each viewing affected him differently.
“The first time, it felt like I was watching an old movie, a story from long ago,” he said. “But the second time, the movie felt more intense; it felt [more] cruel. If you all watch, you will probably all feel differently.”
Neon recently announced that it would give the black-and-white cut of Parasite a limited release in the U.S. ahead of the Oscars, while Bong revealed that there was talk to rerelease 2003 crime drama Memories of Murder in the U.S. to capitalize on his newfound celebrity status.
Bong also served up some information for those who have been dissecting the various elements of Parasite‘s storyline, saying that he had calculated how many years it would take the son, Ki-woo (played by Choi Woo-shik), to buy the house at the plot’s center.
“It would take him 547 years,” he said. “And that’s without spending any money.”
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