Interview: Cutting it up with ‘Parasite’ film editor Jinmo Yang
Jinmo Yang first caught the eye of director Bong Joon Ho when he cut the cult Korean zombie hit Train to Busan. Working together first on Okja, he was a natural fit to continue their collaboration on Parasite, the twisty, dark social satire of class and status that has become an international box office smash, a critical hit and a major Oscar contender.
Yang, who was just nominated for an ACE Eddie this morning, took some time to talk with AwardsWatch on the most challenging and exciting elements of piecing together the ever-changing tone of Parasite and what his favorite scene to put together was. Tread lightly, as there are minor spoilers of the film.
AW: Was Parasite a particularly challenging project for you, on an editing level and if so, why and in what sense?
JY: As a film editor every film is a new challenge. In Parasite, it was important to set a balanced tone of the whole film as it involves many characters and dynamic stories entangled with one another. And as Director Bong only takes shots that he precisely needs, the most challenging part was to make changes and to find dynamic rhythms in the given shot design.
AW: Parasite walks the line between comedy, drama, thriller and suspense. How did you handle all these tonal shifts from an editing perspective?
JY: Many people ask me this question. Actually, when I edit a film, I generally don’t work differently according to the genre. Rather, I think of the overall tone of the film or consider whether the characters fit in the natural flow of the film when placed in such moment. In the beginning I check it by shot, then by sequence, and finally go through the whole film repeatedly. Like the line from the film, I arrange it so it ‘doesn’t cross the line’.
AW: Were there deleted scenes that didn’t make the cut, perhaps due to tone, running time or overall flow? If so, could you tell us a bit more about these scenes?
JY: In terms of scenes, two or three scenes were omitted. Most of such choices were made considering the pace and the tone of the entire film. In the film, Ki-woo finishes his first lesson successfully, introduces Ki-jung to Yeon-kyo, and Ki-jung ring the bell at Yeon-kyo’s mansion. Actually, there was a scene in between, in which Ki-jung gathers with her family in a small, shabby hair shop to get her hair done. The scene itself could show Ki-jung’s family in a fun and affectionate way, but it had to be omitted considering the flow of the whole film. The beginning part of the film progresses with more momentum without this scene.
AW: One of the film’s longest scenes is the one towards the middle of the run time, in which the wealthy family leaves the house and the poor family spends time as masters of the new house. Was that 10-minute scene a challenge for you as an editor?
JY: This part was the scene where the lines were deleted the most. In fact, the scene was much longer than it is now. We thought this length would be appropriate. Ki-taek’s family needed to experience such luxury, because they needed time to enjoy the affluence with the audience before the gates of hell soon to open.
AW: You’ve made two movies with Mr. Bong over the past ten years. How was Parasite different from his other films and do you think your experience working together helped shape Parasite faster, better or perhaps both?
JY: Fortunately, things turned out as such. The last two films were not completely Korean. In that sense, I think Parasite is rather closer to MOTHER or MEMORIES OF MURDER than the last film OKJA. However, Director Bong’s storytelling in PARASITE is craftier and sharper. Editing also became easier in some parts for sure. I came to resemble the director more and more in finding the rhythm or tempo needed for this film.
AW: Parasite has some excellent performances that really give the film its heart wrenching impact. How did the performances shape your work as an editor on the film?
JY: In Parasite, the ensemble of all actors and actresses was great. I felt the features of each character finally coming alive when I faced the casts’ performances, compared to when I read the script. As an editor, I was blessed and honored to have been able to edit and maximize their performance. Especially, the character of Ki-taek was so impressive that I couldn’t imagine any other actor playing the role instead of Song Kang Ho. I chose and edited each shot considering every single nuance and facial expression to respect their efforts. I think the results are reflected in the film very well.
AW: Were there scenes in the film which you wanted to keep or extend but had to limit them in favor of the story?
JY: There is a scene in the latter part of the film where Ki-taek, Ki-woo, and Ki-Jung return to their semi-basement house drowned into water. As Ki-taek fishes out important things in the house, we had a scene where he smashes a crab that had floated in from the streets. But since we deleted the introduction of the crab shop at the beginning of the film, we had to delete the crab-smashing scene as well. I had quite an affection for that scene because it is sad considering the situation but also funny at the same time, but it had to be deleted.
AW: Do you have a particular favorite scene in the film which you had a lot of fun editing? One you’ particularly fell in love with and why was that?
JY: I love the chaotic “Ram-don” sequence. One of the problems we faced while editing was that the pacing of certain shots was lagging. This went against the chaotic energy we were looking for.
One solution I came up with was to “stitch” together multiple shots that had great rhythms so that they look like a single shot. For example, there is an overhead shot of Chung-sook’s hands preparing the “ram-don.” The problem was that Chung-sook’s movements were too slow, making the shot was too monotonous. So I suggested that we use different takes for each of her hands to make it look like she’s moving them simultaneously. Upon viewing the final shot, you won’t notice that it was created by stitching various components from two different shots. Another example would be the shot of Ki-taek and Ki-woo, each dragging Geun-se and Moon-gwang towards the underground bunker. This was also a composition of two different takes because after Ki-taek and Geun-se appear in the shot, it took a long time before Ki-woo and Moon-gwang appeared. So once again, I stitched the figures so that they were closer together. This way, we were able to create a lot of action within a single shot. Through this technique, we were able to create the exact beats and rhythms we wanted. Although subtle, these adjustments furthered the chaotic energy we were pursuing. As you can guess by now, stitching two shots as if they’re one was a frequent task of mine. One of my strengths is that my VFX skills are proficient enough to create convincing “mock-up” shots on the spot. Hence, we are able to experiment freely without having to wait for the VFX vendors to develop the shots.
Another thing I remember about editing this sequence was that the temp score we used had a rather slow tempo. So I suggested that we arbitrarily speed up the score. Ultimately, we edited this sequence to the sped-up version of the temp score.
AW: Did you have an input in the way the story of Parasite was constructed or did you follow a specific storyboard-driven sequence of events that Mr. Bong had outlined in advance?
JY: Director Bong is famous for his precise storyboard. You can say that most of the editing assembly is already finished at the storyboard stage. My job is to add details and fit them together upon this general map. I create a unique rhythm exclusive to Parasite, putting two sequence together or shifting and rearranging shots in a designated story.
1AW: Finally, we’d like to know more about your upcoming projects.
JY: Nowadays I’m editing the film PENINSULA by director YEON Sang-ho, which is set 4 years after the film TRAIN TO BUSAN. We aim to release the film next summer. I’m also preparing to challenge myself with American films as well as Korean films in the future.
Parasite is currently in theaters from Neon.