Proclaiming that Parasite is one of the most impactful films of 2019 wouldn’t be a stretch at all. Bong Joon-ho’s latest is an immersive cinematic experience that resists philosophizing (even generic description) unless you’ve got hours to spare. An impeccable technical wonder that also happens to be deeply intuitive, it is Bong’s magnum opus — a film that neatly caps off a series of films including Snowpiercer and Okja which critically explore various notions of class.
One of Parasite’s greatest victories is that it transcends a wide range of categorizations to tell Bong’s most direct and vital story to date. It doesn’t fit neatly into the confines of a basic thriller or satire or drama, although it is certainly all of those things, too. Rather, Parasite sports a sharp awareness of its own storytelling devices — for instance, in-depth characterization and instinctual narrative beats — that marry into a logical, thrilling, and unconventionally satisfying film.
Bong’s keen artistic vision for Parasite wouldn’t be the same without his long-time cutting-room collaborator Yang Jin-mo. Together, they’ve been a part of the same creative family since the early 2010s, crafting the films Snowpiercer and Okja prior. At this point, Yang has a strong sense of his own storytelling sensibilities and seamlessly amplifies Bong’s films in the editing room.
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interview Yang. His interpreter, Jason Yu, joined us for our Skype chat, wherein we dived headfirst into Parasite’s many layers. Frankly, at times the film even seems too big and intricate for the scope of our discussion. That said, Yang’s insights are invaluable and fascinating.
Do note that Parasite spoilers will follow in this edited version of our conversation.
FSR: I’d love to know about your past working experience with Director Bong because you’ve made three movies together in the last decade. How has your creative relationship with him evolved throughout these collaborations?
YANG JIN-MO (via JASON YU): [Yang] first worked with Director Bong as an on-set editor [and VFX editor] for Snowpiercer. For Okja, he was the on-set editor for the North American portion, [and] also the main editor. And on Parasite, he was the main editor. As he began to work [on] Snowpiercer, due to all the trials and tribulations on the set [and] having to go through them with Director Bong, [Yang] grew closer to him. He became more immersed in his films.
Being together on-set with Director Bong has a lot of advantages. For example, [Yang] had ample opportunity to converse with him regarding not only how to edit the film, [but] also what shots to shoot on-set. And one thing to keep in mind is that Jin-mo has a VFX background. So, for films such as Snowpiercer and Okja – where everything was incredibly VFX-heavy – they had the opportunity to discuss the VFX aspect of shots on-set, too.
Director Bong has a penchant for storyboarding. How did that carry on into the final edit of Parasite, in particular?
There’s a little arc regarding the evolution of Director Bong’s storyboards. While [Yang] was on-set editing his earlier works, there were ample opportunities [to] weed out unnecessary shots or combine [them], even though they were in the storyboards initially.
But as Director Bong progressed from Snowpiercer [to] Okja and Parasite, he became more and more faithful to the storyboards. The reason why this might be possible…is because Parasite, compared to [those previous films], is much smaller in scale. It’s a local film to [Bong]. [Yang reckons that] He’s doing things in his home ground, so he had more autonomy and freedom.
And even with this very deliberate nature of Parasite’s storytelling, the film quickly and organically goes through a considerably dense screenplay without glossing over any hard-hitting themes. Parasite remains extremely funny and satirical, too. How did you figure out the right amount of subtlety required to tell a story like this?
Director Bong and [Yang] shared the same goal regarding the editing of Parasite. It was that the build-up – although slow at first – it should never feel as though it’s dragging or it’s boring. Jin-mo was always concerned and conscious of the pacing of the film. That was the first and foremost priority. Even before editing, Director Bong and Jin-mo always discussed how important the pacing of the film should be. They frequently made bold decisions to weed out time-consuming shots. For example, there were two scenes that were either omitted or reduced and the reason was solely because their tone was jarring from the rest of the assembly. And just an FYI, you can check out what those scenes are in the Blu-ray!
Besides that excellent plug, I wanted to also ask about the actors. After all, Parasite is very character-driven, even though there are so many of them. They all have something important to say regarding the film’s overall message as well. How did the performances shape the quality of the edit?
In Director Bong’s films, you often find that an incredibly famous actor in Korea – Song Kang-ho – usually appears. Director Bong treats Song Kang-ho as his persona. And there’s also a lot of theatre-based actors. So, it’s always such a treat to edit these performances.
One thing [Yang] remembers – this is a non-edit related anecdote – during one of the pre-production meetings with Director Bong is that he showed Jin-mo a photo of Geun-sae (Park Myung-hoon), the person living underground. And he asked, “Isn’t he so good-looking? He’s like Jang Dong-gun!” If you look at the photo from a mile away, he kind of resembles Jang Dong-gun, this very good-looking Korean actor. And in that sense, what he’s trying to say is that…[Bong is] great at choosing actors. And this always benefits the edit.
But to answer your question specifically, an interesting about [the film’s] main character Ki-taek (who is played by Song) is that for every take, there’s always a subtle difference in acting. So, Jin-mo has a lot to choose from performance-wise for each shot. And that’s just the way Song Kang-ho works as an actor.
And for all the other new actors, they deliver always these fresh and raw performances; rarely seen in Director Bong’s films. For these performances, Jin-mo’s task was to choose, pick the perfect rawness or the freshness…of the various takes that they might have shot. In these cases, it was usually the first takes — the initial takes — that were the best.
An interesting thing about Director Bong and how he chooses the performances for each take – and Jin-mo shares a similar sensibility – is that [they] both don’t really like perfect, trained acting performances. Even though the acting may be imperfect, they look for […] live and genuine sort of moments.
To give a crude example, there is a wide shot in Parasite where the family – especially Ki-taek – is scurrying down the stairs during a storm and there were various takes. But there was one take where Ki-taek slipped and almost fell. And although that wasn’t planned and it wasn’t actually [the actor’s] intentions, that’s the one that Director Bong and Jin-mo liked the most.
So, was there a standout that was particularly fun to edit because of these natural onscreen moments – happy accidents that make the movie more spontaneous?
Yes, Song Kang-ho!
Of course, it is! His performance — and everyone else’s — anchors the whole film in a very grounded way. By that same token (i.e. the appreciation of specific technical aspects of the film), I’d like to unpack some scenes that stand out; the ones that stayed with me the longest, especially after rewatch. First, the home infiltration scene.
In Korea, we call it the “Belt of Faith” sequence. Even before making the film – when he initially discussed it with Jin-mo – [Director Bong] always stressed that this sequence…depended on the editing the most. And because of Director Bong’s emphasis, Jin-mo was acutely aware and very deliberate, even in the on-set editing phase, and he prepared temp scores way before.
[Yang’s] goal was to find the essential moments in the shots. So, what he did was to cut the fat in them…just to keep the tempo going. If you just look at the sequence alone, you will see that there are various cinematic techniques that were implemented. There are quick pans, there is slow-motion, and there were jump cuts even though it created errors in continuity. It was to provide an immersive experience for the audience. As if they are infiltrating the house together with the [Kim] family…
[…] Finding the essential moments within the shots required a visceral intuition.
And what about what happens once they’re in the house? There is a distinct tonal shift once the previous housekeeper, Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun), returns to the Park residence for her husband, who lives in their basement. From this point on, the film further devolves from ludicrous satire into something more obviously deranged. Explicit violence is soon introduced into the fold. How do you ensure this tonal change from an unconventional heist film to an all-out drama doesn’t throw the audience off?
To be absolutely honest, that’s less to do with editing per se. Those sorts of gradual…or natural tonal shifts were established already inside the story and the screenwriting. But what we do in editing and what Director Bong does is [something like this]: for example, when shooting the [Park] house – when we initially show the house for the first time and when we pass the kitchen – we do get a glimpse that there is some sort of underground stairwell. These little bites of information do start to add up, even in the initial stages of the film.
How does this feed into Parasite‘s overall construction of storytelling itself? When rewatching the film, I personally saw this fable-esque quality of the film as a layered fiction that masks the jarring realness of its themes — narratives that the characters build up around themselves that enable their actions, even if they aren’t based in truths about class privilege. How did you maintain this aspect of the film?
It’s an incredibly difficult question. We need some time to think about it!
That’s okay, take your time!
We’ll try our best to answer the question and it might not be direct. But, in approaching this film, [Yang] believed that the characters are a portrayal of the audience. One of the rules of thumb was that the situation that they are put in makes them do certain things. For example, it makes certain characters do bad things, and sometimes it makes them the victim. The rule of thumb while editing was to find the most natural [and] most truthful reaction given the situation.
It wasn’t to follow story structure; [it wasn’t about] what the protagonist “should” do or the antagonist “should” do. It’s “this is the most appropriate action of this character given this situation.”
That definitely makes sense, especially given the way that capitalism can be construed to be a villain – of sorts – in Parasite, in my opinion. Did your approach help make the film the monster movie that it is?
To be completely honest, it’s more to do with Director Bong’s prowess in building his universe. He didn’t want it to be too deliberate – on the nose – but just to show it like it is. And although Jin-mo agrees with how Director Bong perceives the world in Parasite… [both of them] refrain from trying to enlighten the audience; trying to educate them. They try to keep everything subtle and on the low.
Which reminds me of Okja, in a way. That film didn’t seem necessarily preachy but definitely took a strong stance. Did you take personally take any notes from that project and bring it to Parasite?
Yes. Not really message-wise or technique-wise, but as [Yang’s] collaboration with Director Bong accumulates, he does believe that he was influenced by Director Bong’s rhythm. That was the case in Okja also. And as they continually work together, Jin-mo and Director Bong kind of influence each other where their… sensibilities kind of converge and meet. Now they kind of have a mutual agreement due to this mutual influence.
Did you have a favorite scene to edit in Parasite?
The most fun [Yang] had while editing the film was the ram-don sequence [with] Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), the mother of the unfortunate [Kim] family. Jin-mo found great moments in certain takes and shots where he could implement it into the assembly. And just to make the [scene] more chaotic, Jin-mo even sped up the temp score and edited it to that rhythm.
And the sequence worked a treat; it’s super frenetic and funny and intense to watch! Which scene, on the flip side, was the hardest to get right?
It was the climax scene, the party scene where Ki-taek stabs Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun). The main task of Jin-mo was to sell to the audience that this is something that could happen. And, at first, Jin-mo found that quite difficult. But he focused on the emotions, the facial expressions that led up to the moment of the stabbing. And he put his trust in the faith of [Song Kang-ho’s] prowess in acting and also finding the right emotions to sell…that there is an emotional change that’s happening in Ki-taek. And when he actually stabs Mr. Park, although the shock is there, it shouldn’t feel jarring.
So, what’s next down the pipeline for you?
Currently, [Yang] is cutting the sequel to Train to Busan, titled Bando. He’s also looking for opportunities to edit Hollywood films. Not necessarily Hollywood films but English-language films in the US. There’s that. And also, he always looks forward to editing Director Bong’s next films.