Parasite

What praise is left to offer for Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite that someone has not yet said? From debuting to the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival to earning the first ever Oscar nominations for South Korea, this riveting masterpiece gained fans among critics, moviegoers and industry folk at every turn this season. With the film now available to rent digitally and purchase on DVD and Blu-ray in the United States, it’s time to go deeper into the film’s immaculate construction and execution.

Luckily, I was able to do just that with the film’s editor, Jinmo Yang. I caught him on the phone at the end of the whirlwind day where he scored an Academy Award nomination for Best Film Editing. Despite being incredibly tired, he still cogently spoke to how the collaboration process worked with director Bong and how little the film departed from the meticulous storyboards created in pre-production.

Congratulations on your Oscar nomination! Is it life changing or just a “local” ceremony, as director Bong said?

[laughs] Yeah, you can say it is a local thing, but it is still life-changing for me.

Let’s start at the beginning. Director Bong storyboards meticulously – is he already thinking like an editor in terms of the interplay of the shots?

When he’s writing, he’s already thinking about the editing process. The storyboard is a visual representation of what he’s thinking of, and there’s more detail that he has prepared for going into the production.

Is that helpful, or does having such a strong sense of what the film will be ahead of time inhibit you from making discoveries in the editing room?

It’s actually a great benefit for me. I’ve been working with director Bong for a couple of projects, so I’m become very accustomed to his filmmaking process. [Because] he has prepared the storyboards, I’m afforded more time fine-tuning the actual picture.

When I’m working on other projects, I obviously have a lot of different choices and selections. However, because director Bong has a limit in regard to the choices, as long as I follow his path, I get to come out with a great output at the end.

You’ve said that you come into the production process early enough to where director Bong is still asking you questions about character development and if there’s anything missing. Did you make any suggestions on Parasite that weighed on how the film turned out?

Overall, I didn’t really talk about in detail as far as the writing goes. However, in regard to Ki-Taek’s character [the Kim family patriarch played by Song Kang-Ho], especially his behavior when there’s a drastic change by the end, I put out a question to director Bong whether he could sell it to the audience. Whether the audience would buy his turnaround. However, at the same time, I had a great faith that with director Bong’s direction and Mr. Song’s performance, they would be able to pull it out.

Once shooting begins, you don’t return to the storyboards and just rely on the dailies. Is there much difference between how he envisions it on the page and how it arrives to the editing bay?

Obviously, as far as the detail of the shot and the length of the footage, that may be a little bit different when it comes out. However, when you compare the storyboards and the actual footage, it’s really astounding to see how it matches shot-by-shot perfectly.

The film, according to you, has 960 cuts. Is that about what you expected from the beginning?

Actually, director Bong’s films tend to be under a thousand shots. I was expecting, compared to Okja which had more action scenes, that Parasite would be less than a thousand. That actually turned out to be the case.

Given that this film does not have a large number of cuts and that director Bong does not like to shoot master shots or coverage, was the footage you got a little bit longer than we see on screen in case you needed a few extra frames or seconds to get the timing as precise as what we see?

To be honest, because director Bong uses only the essential, bare necessities – this is something I’ve never shared before – sometimes when a certain shot is at the latter end of the emotion, I would use to the very end after director Bong calls cut. As much as I can. Director Bong apologized to me and said, “I’m sorry I called cut too early.”

Jung Jaeil’s score plays such a large role in guiding our emotional reactions to the film, particularly in the “Belt of Faith” sequence. At what point did you know what that would add to Parasite? Were you cutting the film without it for any period of time?

Obviously before going into the shoot, director Bong and I had already talked about reference music that he was envisioning. I didn’t go on set editing for Parasite. However, even for the editing, they laid out the temp track when they were assembling the footage on the set.

One thing I noticed about the “Belt of Faith” sequence is that the flashbacks of them planning this big con are interspersed throughout – it’s not all done at once and then we watch them execute it like a heist. Were there ever any discussions or attempts to have the scene unfold strictly chronologically?

We never discussed going in chronological order. It was more about discussing which part to omit or skip. We were more concerned about the pacing. Director Bong and I’s intention for that sequence is being most effective using less shots and showing the Kim family infiltrating the Park family as quickly as they can, with a great pace and rhythm. Rhythm is very important.

There are a number of moments in the film, be it blowing on the peach or the scene where the two families fight for the phone while the Italian song plays has what appears to be a little bit of slo-mo or playing with the frame rate. Was this achieved in the editing room or a bit of an optical illusion created by camera movement?

Yes, but a lot of both slow-motion parts were pre-designed in the storyboards. That’s one of the amazing things about director Bong. He has everything figured out in regard to the frame rate and slow-motion figured out on the board before going into shooting. We try to be very subtle and not obvious about it. Here and there, we will pull out some frames to bring out that effect.

It heightens some moments but doesn’t take you out of the moment entirely.

It’s very scary that everything has been pre-determined and pre-designed!

I want to talk about the scene you’ve said was the hardest to cut, the lead-up to the birthday party scene. As an American, I had a certain read about Ki-taek’s reluctance to not play along with the Native American party. It was my thought that he viewed a Native American theme as somewhat inappropriate – which may or may not have been the full story. When you’re cutting a scene like that where cultural context means a lot, do you find you have to account for where certain countries or regions might need a little more time to pick up on something unspoken?

Director Bong and I, when working in editorial, were very aware of the cultural sensitivity of Native American makeup and all that is happening at the scene. However, to be honest, it didn’t really affect cutting that sequence in regard to the entire film. A more important issue for us was less about the costumes they were wearing and more about whether the audience would be the emotional change in Ki-taek. That was more crucial in regard to the film. I am very aware that director Bong, whether it be through costumes or props, was trying for a little bit of subtext in the work. As an editor myself, I don’t go about putting that up myself in order to raise a flag and express a certain kind of statement. That would not be my intention. We always prefer being subtle.

The film’s final scene ends on a fade to black. Is that level of detail something in director Bong’s storyboards, or did you decide on that later in the editing process?

I don’t think that was actually boarded. It was more out of habit. Fade to black is a common language to end a movie.

I have a feeling I might know the answer for this, but one thing I always like to ask craftspeople is whether they see themselves as purely executioners of a director’s vision or if there’s a distinct personal stamp they put on a film that can always be found. Is there such thing as a “Jinmo Yang” film, or only a Bong Joon-Ho film edited by Jinmo Yang?

Whenever I work on a project, I don’t go about leaving a legacy as an editor. I consider that is the work of all the cast and crew, but the director is the most credited person, obviously. I just want to remain invisible behind the scenes.

As invisible as an Oscar-nominee can be now!

That would be a special occasion where I come out of my cave.

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