Centered on the family of Kim Ki-Taek—a penniless, unemployed bunch living in the squalor of a basement-level apartment—the film examines the intersection of the Kims with the Parks, a wealthy and glamorous family living the life the Kims so badly want, and feel entitled to. Taking a job as a tutor to the Parks’ teenage daughter, Kim’s son then finds clever and ugly way to get jobs for each of his family members within the Park residence, so that they can all feed off of the wealth of this family—without the Parks ever connecting the dots, with regard to the four people they’ve employed.
The South Korean entry for Best International Feature Film, which this summer became the first Korean film to win the Palme d’Or, Parasite was a tricky film to edit, given its unusual tone, and its gradual acceleration into madness. Working closely with Yang, Joon Ho expressed a very clear idea, early on, in terms of how the film’s anxious build-up should feel.
“He gave the analogy of, ‘At the beginning of the film, it feels like a drizzle, and all this rain and drizzle is building up—and when it reaches the suspenseful height, the tempo should feel like a typhoon,” Yang tells Deadline, from his editing suite in South Korea. “While editing, director Bong and I were always acutely aware of the tempo and the rhythm, and finding the finer details within this tempo and rhythm.”
DEADLINE: What were your first impressions when Bong Joon Ho approached you for Parasite?
JINMO YANG: I first received the screenplay by director Bong when I was almost wrapping up editing his previous film, Okja. When I read the screenplay, I thought that it was very fresh and original, and had this mix of genres that I’d never seen before.
DEADLINE: Could you describe your early conversations with director Bong, in terms of what he was looking for in the edit?
YANG: For previous projects [where] I collaborated with director Bong, such as Okja and Snowpiercer, they were very grandiose in scale. However, Parasite was much smaller in scale, [like] his Korean film, Mother. So, when we talked about the idea of editing this film, we talked about the opportunity to delve deeper into the smaller details. We had more freedom to manipulate and fine-tune these details that we didn’t have the chance for, in our previous works, and since it was a smaller budget, we received less pressure. We were more free and more comfortable to edit as we willed.
DEADLINE: Can you offer a few insights into the way in which director Bong generally likes to work, in post?
YANG: Director Bong is very peculiar, in that even when he works on the storyboards, he’s very acutely aware of editing. If you look at his storyboards, you can already see that he’s aware of where he wants to cut, and sees those editing points. This is also very peculiar in the Korean film industry, where we have on-set editing, while the shoot is happening. Via this, we have the rough and basic structure of the assembly already prepared, so when director Bong finishes shooting and wraps up, him and I edit right away, without giving me time to get the first assembly. We fine-tune that together right away. While we’re doing the on-set editing, I receive feedback right away from director Bong, and if there are any problems, they can tackle those on set.
Just an FYI: I was the on-set editor for director Bong’s previous films, such as Snowpiercer and Okja. But in the case of Parasite, I sent my assistant editor, while I was in charge of the actual editing booth.
DEADLINE: I imagine the tonal balancing act director Bong brought to bear with this film was quite clear on the page. But were there ways in which you contributed to striking that balance while cutting Parasite?
YANG: That specific and intricate tonal balance was already established in the screenplay, and if in the future you get a chance to look at the storyboards, you’ll be really shocked at how he established this in such beginning phases of the filmmaking process.
While editing, although balancing the established tones was very important, the most important task at hand was getting right the tempo and the rhythm of the film. While we were discussing the editing of Parasite in the initial phases, when I first received the screenplay, and even onwards, what he always expected me to master and perfect was a tempo.
DEADLINE: Can you elaborate on the which you fine-tuned the film’s rhythm, and managed the escalation of tension throughout?
YANG: I’m not sure if you’re aware of this in director Bong, but his footage is very limited. He doesn’t shoot coverage or masters, so one of the tasks, as an editor, is trying to find the essence within the limited footage that he has. And sometimes, the perfect footage—the footage that has the perfect rhythm or tempo—is nonexistent. He didn’t shoot it, so director Bong and I have to stitch various components of various shots, as if they are one shot. I usually do this via VFX, to create the perfect rhythm, and the tempo that he’s looking for.
DEADLINE: What exactly does that VFX process look like? You’ll stitch different takes together to create one shot?
YANG: For the same shot, there are different takes, so we’ll take different elements, different timings of different takes, and stitch them together as if it’s one shot. For example, if we prefer the rhythm and tempo of Ki-taek, the father, in one particular take, we’ll use that. Then, for Chung-sook, the mother, we’ll use another take, and stitch it and make it look as if it’s one shot.
Sometimes, this only requires very rudimentary VFX work, which I can handle by myself. But sometimes, when the camerawork is intricate—which is often the case with director Bong’s footage—I’ll ask for a helping hand, via VFX vendors.
DEADLINE: Where do you find opportunities to be creative and offer up something surprising to director Bong, given that he’s an auteur who has mapped out so many aspects of his films in advance?
YANG: First and foremost, my creative autonomy comes in finding the rhythm, and finding the timing in the editing. Director Bong usually trusts me in that area. To give an example of the collaboration between director Bong and I, there’s this cross-cutting scene between Ki-taek, the father, rehearsing his lines on how he’s going to get the housemaid fired, and he actually executed the lines inside the car at each driving [of] his boss—the wife, Yeon-kyo. Initially, in the storyboard and screenplay phases, the rehearsed lines are incredibly redundant. In one shot, Ki-taek rehearses a certain line, and in the car shot, he rehearses the same line, so there’s a certain repetitiveness about it, and director Bong just tossed the idea of, How about intercutting these shots so that they feel more bouncy, [so] that it doesn’t feel redundant, and it feels as if they’re having a conversation straight away? With that idea, it was up to me to come up with the order and the timing and the rhythm of the intercuts.
There are a lot of these instances throughout the assembly, and with each sequence, we went through this collaborative procedure. What director Bong usually does is, he diagnoses the problem. He says, “Certain shots are too long, certain shots need a finer edge, etcetera,” and it’s up to me to find the perfect solutions to these problems.
DEADLINE: Could you break down your approach to the film’s violent climax at the birthday party and the much quieter epilogue that follows it? The juxtaposition between these sequences is very interesting.
YANG: The ending, even during its initial phases, was structured to be explosive and shocking, and it was edited in a way to maximize the chaos in this [birthday party] sequence. The shots in the sequence are incredibly short and fast-paced, so the chaos is maximized, and this chaos is abruptly halted when we see Ki-taek fleeing the garden scene with a long shot, and we kind of just leave him there. This is contrasted by the relatively serene and still epilogue, where we see the son, Ki-woo, just observing the house from afar, and we made this intentionally slow, so that the audience could take a breather—they can take time to process what just happened at the climax. So, that was the reason for the contrast.
DEADLINE: What was it like, working with the extraordinary performances of Parasite’s cast?
YANG: This is my third film with Kang-ho Song, who plays Ki-taek, and a thing you have to note about Song Kang-ho is that his acting differs for every take, just so that he can give a variance in how he interprets the scene and his character. His ability to analyze his character and express it via acting is really amazing. As for Woo-shik Choi, who I worked with on Okja, his acting prowess isn’t as refined as Kang-ho Song—obviously, because of his youth. Nevertheless, his acting is incredibly raw and refreshing, and he’s incredibly talented, also. Just watching these actors perform is incredibly shocking, and I’m very honored that I’m able to work on films that have these actors in them. That’s why I’m very deliberate and careful in selecting takes, because they’re all very different, in their own way.
DEADLINE: Which scene or sequence in Parasite was most challenging for you to edit?
YANG: The most challenging sequence was actually the climax of the party sequence, where Ki-taek stabs Mr. Park, and Ki-taek’s not really cooperating with the Native American theme party. I believed that my role was to sell to the audience the emotion of Ki-taek actually being able to stab Mr. Park, and make it look jarring—and while doing that, I also had to sell the impact of this moment. So, balancing those things was incredibly difficult for me. I believe the whole film converged to that moment of Ki-taek stabbing Mr. Park, and while the act of stabbing itself should be shocking to the audience, the audience has to believe that, Yes, this could happen. This is convincing.
DEADLINE: What are you most proud of, in terms of your work on this film and the way in which it’s been received?
YANG: To be honest, the Palme d’Or was great. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so there’s that. But the thing that I’m most proud of, and the biggest takeaway from Parasite, was once again being able to work as an editor with director Bong on this great project. That’s what I’m most proud of. I hope that this won’t be my last project with director Bong—that I will continually edit his future projects, as well. That’s the most important part.
DEADLINE: What’s next for you?
YANG: I’m always waiting to edit director Bong’s next project, but the exact timeline for that isn’t decided yet. As of now, I’m currently editing the sequel to Train to Busan, this Korean zombie film, which is titled Bando.
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