The Most Challenging Scene to Edit in Parasite: An Interview With Oscar Jinmo Yang
Jinmo Yang has been editing for ten years, and in that time he's established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of film editing. He's become South Korea's premiere editor, working on some of the most internationally successful films coming out of that industry. Yang's work includes the phenomenal Train to Busan, Okja, and of course Bong Joon Ho's Parasite, for which he is nominated for the Editing Oscar.
His style has become such that he's mastered rhythm, and with that tool has become a subtle storyteller. Filmmaker U's Gordon Burkell sat down with Jinmo Yang to discuss his work on the film Parasite.
*Note our discussion took place through an interpreter. We've tried to be as faithful as possible to Yang's intent in the answers.
GB: You worked with director Bong on several projects in different capacities, so I'm wondering if you could tell me how your relationship started and how you transitioned to become his full-time editor?
Jinmo Yang: I first met director Bong when we were shooting Snowpiercer, and I was working as the onset editor, and that relationship led to working on Okja as well, where I was both the onset editor and also the main editor, which also became our approach for Parasite as well. So it's the third project I worked on with him.
To think back, and I'm not 100% sure, but very likely, the DP Kyung-Pyo Hong. We worked on different projects together, and I believe that he's the one that made the introduction to director Bong in the very beginning.
GB: You mentioned that you had been the onset editor, and that seems to be a role that's evolving in the industry right now. I'm wondering, how does that impact you in the edit suite having someone - either yourself or someone else - assembling on the set?
Jinmo Yang: So the onset editor role is actually- has been a part of the Korean film industry throughout its history. So it's not something that's new for us as much as it is for the international level.
In Korea, the onset editor definitely allows for the amount of time that goes into post-production to be less than what it usually would be. But also, at the same time, onset it allows for the director and the team to preview a detailed cut that normally they wouldn't be able to visually see if they didn't have an onset editor.
So on the team for Parasite, I sent an assistant editor to be the onset editor for this job, and with that process, the basic guideline, the structure of the edit, was already done by the time the footage arrived. So I was able to edit and have quick feedback and turn around to Bong as we were shooting the film.
GB: Bong has said that Hitchcock really inspired this film. So I was wondering, how did that come into the cutting room? Were there discussions about this?
Jinmo Yang: So, I actually didn't know about the Hitchcock reference until he said it in an interview after everything was done. So, when we were editing, that was not part of the conversation, but personally, I'm a big fan of Hitchcock. So, even if the conversation did not happen, it allowed a Hitchcock effect innately available, and innately with us as we were doing the entire process.
GB: One of the things that you've mentioned in other interviews that you've done is how meticulous you had to be about tempo and rhythm, and I'm wondering if you could sort of elaborate on that because in the other interviews you just say you had to really focus on the tempo and rhythm. In what aspect did you have to really finesse that?
Jinmo Yang: So even this part, if you think about it, [onset editing] allows more time back in the post-production room and editing house, and allows us to focus on the rhythm and the detail, and the tempo. I think that the process just ends the way he utilized the entire systems that allowed us to give more time and finesse and focus on the details that would allow us to bring in the tempo.
For example, "the belt of faith" sequence, even the structural edit provided from the onset editor, was good as is. Still, the detail in shots was re-examined in the edit suite - the structure itself was still respected and honored. But every shot was examined under detail and every content and material we had to look into switching over each shot, just to make sure that we get the best final result.
GB: Which scene was that?
Jinmo Yang: It's the sequence. We called it "the belt of Fate," but it's the scene where each of their four family members adds- joins in and merges into the rich family that ends with the blood in the trash can.
GB: One of the things that you've also mentioned in other interviews is that Bong doesn't shoot coverage or masters. So, how did this affect you in the edited suite? How do you tackle a situation when you don't have coverage?
Jinmo Yang: So, that's what's really amazing about director Bong, is that - even if he doesn't provide coverage, he shoots everything in a way where it's okay not to have that. It actually wouldn't have mattered because of the way he shoots everything.
But, that being said, it doesn't necessarily mean that every shot was perfect in terms of tempo or timing, and especially, as you know coverage, there were a lot of editing techniques, that we had to utilize in order to create a perfect tempo or timing or to mock-up to a point where it looks like it was meant to be that way. Still, a lot of editing techniques, such as merging two different scenes together, allowed us to provide that result.
GB: When you say putting two scenes together, do you mean the stitching? Because I heard there was stitching of shots.
Jinmo Yang: Not two- two scenes, but two shots, yes.
GB: Can you tell me about tackling stitching and how you go about doing that?
Jinmo Yang: So to give you an example, there's a scene where the son of the poor family, is teaching how to act to the father, and if you recall the scene, at the beginning, we're looking at the son, and then it does a quick panning to the father. Actually, for the scene where we see the son, we use take - 27 or whichever - where he has the best acting, and then we will also use a quick pan technique to put another scene or different take where we see the father in his best version, but make it look like it was one scene. Well, one shot.
GB: Bong has referred to Parasite as a tragic comedy, and it does have this interesting balance between humor and darkness. How did you approach maintaining that balance? It could've easily become over-the-top, but somehow it's just perfectly level and feels natural.
Jinmo Yang: The theme that you see in the film, and they use this term a lot where they- try not to cross a line. Even in editing, we also try not to cross a line, where it becomes too much in one direction or the other. For example, there is a scene at the end where you see Ki-taek, the poor father, in an Indian costume, talking with Nathan Park, the rich father. And you see them next to each other and talking, and there was actually a scene where the poor father, Kim, was also smelling how Nathan Park smells. Still, at that point, it felt a bit too much, and it was also bringing up the possibility of the tone shifting into one side of the direction, so we decided to take that out in the editing process.
And so, in a similar way, if there was a scene that was tilting the balance into the other direction we would also try to be very careful not to cross that line.
At the same time, I can't say that it was always a perfect balance, and there's definitely a scene where it kind of tilts focus on the comedic scene, but there was a lot of debate on the topic. And one of the scenes that actually made it into the final cut is the scene where Ki-taek and Yeon-kyo show the poor father, and then the rich mom in the private sauna in the house, and she asks him if he had washed his hands, and you see a scene where he looks up. It just kind of ends the scene. And the shot read a bit too comedic, and too humorous, and it was actually one of the scenes where there was a lot of debate between Director Bong and I. Because it might have come off too comedic. Still, at the same time, we also wanted to make sure there was some kind of humor in it, so I actually pushed for that scene to be in the final cut, which ended up making it.
GB: Now, I'd love to know what scene in this film are you most proud of. And why?
Jinmo Yang: As an editor, the scene I am most proud of is the Ram Don sequence, but to be honest - and I haven't said this in an interview - the part that I found the most humorous, and that I enjoyed personally, is the scene where Yeon-kyo is having sex on the sofa, where the Ki-taek and the family is under the table because that scene itself is funny but also sad at the same time. If you recall during the scene, each of the four family members escapes the table in the living room, and there's a wide shot at the end where Ki-taek, the father, is escaping, and on the upper side of the screen, his legs are overhanging, and you see that it's his leg. And I'm not sure from the editing perspective, but I personally am very much fond of that specific scene in the sequence of the couch sex scene leading up to the escape scene.
GB: Now, what scene would you say is your favorite and most challenging scene? And why?
Jinmo Yang: The birthday party scene at the end. The entire scene, and the sequence of it. Starting from where you see the two- Ki-taek and Nathan Park in the Indian outfit, to- leading up to the point where Ki-taek is stabbing Nathan, and the entire process of editing these scenes but also, the emotional change that Ki-taek goes through, and the challenge that we had was to make sure the audience- once they see it, would agree to the build-up and the emotion and the decision that Ki-taek had to make and to make sure that they weren't questioning the build-up and the conclusion of how that climate had been reached. And to ensure that agreeable build-up for an emotional sense was a very difficult challenge.
GB: What stood out for that scene for me was the emotional rollercoaster you go on. Because there are these little moments where you're sitting there with the fathers, and it's a calm moment. Then there's the guy coming up the stairs, and getting all that stuff set up, and all these sort of, little vignettes that, you know, the pacing shifts, everything sort of changes, it's a very very interesting scene in itself.
Now, the Korean film industry seems to have taken off. It seems like Old Boy came out in what, 2001? 2002? And just blew open the doors, and now all these amazing films are coming out. What do you think happened to make this huge shift for the rest of the world to see it all of a sudden? Especially in the last ten years, there have been several films that have come out.
Jinmo Yang: To be honest, I obviously can't tell you exactly why that would have happened, but in my opinion, around the time that Old Boy came out, I believe that's also when there were a lot of movie fanatics. And there were a lot of students who were into movies and the film industry who are learning and delving into it. So, that generation of people- that was a flourishing moment of a lot of people who are now big players, like Director Bong, Director Park Chan Wook, and Yoo-Jin Kim. That's when all these bigger players were starting to work together and starting to be thrust forward in the industry. So I believe it was a generational shift of people who were readily available to study and also practice the film industry the likes of which we had never seen before.
GB: Amazing. Well, thank you so much for letting me interview.
Jinmo Yang: Thank you, Gordon.