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‘Parasite’: Cutting the Escalating Tension of Class Divide in Bong Joon Ho’s Social Thriller

Editor Jinmo Yang earned an ACE Eddie nomination this week for his breakthrough work on the acclaimed South Korean Oscar contender.

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“Parasite”

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[Editor’s Note: The following article contains “Parasite” spoilers.]

Director Bong Joon Ho looked to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” for minor inspiration in making his breakthrough Oscar contender and genre-bending class thriller, “Parasite.” This isn’t surprising considering his meticulous rhythm and pacing throughout the voyeuristic masterpiece. “Parasite” stands out for its suspenseful, escalating tension, as the down-on-its-luck Kim family insinuates its way into the wealthy home of the Parks, only to discover they are not alone in trying to scam them for financial security, resulting in a murderous rampage at the end.

But while the rhythm builds from a drizzle to a typhoon, the director still wanted the first half to move quickly. “That was something we were always conscious of,” said editor Jinmo Yang, who received an ACE Eddie nomination this week, increasing his chances for an editing Oscar nomination as well. Meanwhile, the rhythm becomes even more compressed in the second half, with the surprise twist of a mysterious intruder living in an underground bunker. This totally upends the would-be fortunes of the Kim family.

For Yang, who previously cut “Okja” and “Snowpiercer” with Ho, the director’s avoidance of coverage became even more of an obstacle on “Parasite.” This necessitated stitching together takes through CG compositing to attain the precise pace the director desired. “Sometimes [Bong] has to be bold in creating jump cuts even if it’s not in keeping with the continuity. This was part of his less is more philosophy,” he said.

“Parasite”

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“What usually happens is we create the assembly on set, editing in rough sequence, and then move on to the actual editing, where we find the right music and recut the sequences there,” added Yang. “And we even change takes that we initially thought were okay. We tweak the timing of every shot, perfecting the rhythm, even if it means stitching together various takes together as one shot.” One time-consuming example was a cross-cutting sequence, in which Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and his son (Choi Woo-shik) rehearse his crucial employment interview as Park family chauffeur, layered with the actual interview. “Some of the dialogue overlapped and we were able to cut that out with this economical cross-cutting,” he said.

The most important sequence was the “Belt of Trust” setup, in which the individual members of the Kim family become employed in the Park household as tutors, chauffeur, and housekeeper. “Director Bong was very mindful of this sequence, and emphasized how important it was to the film,” Yang said. “Naturally, this was the most time-consuming part to edit. Although we captured its essential structure during on-set editing, we later combed through all the takes to find the best shots and worked hard to perfect the rhythm of the sequence.

“One obstacle was that the beats in certain shots felt too lagging. Director Bong wanted to shorten their length and tighten their rhythm, yet maintain all the essential beats. In these instances, we shared the same goal — remove all the fat, yet save the essence. One example is when Ki-taek holds up Moon-gwang’s [Lee Jung-eun] blood-ridden tissue,” Yang said, referring to the scene where the Kims dupe the Park matriarch into thinking their housekeeper has tuberculosis.

“Originally, Ki-taek had to go through a lot of motions and gestures, such as opening and spraying the packet of hot sauce, to reach the final gesture of holding up the tissue,” Yang said. “However, we felt like this dragged on too long. So what I suggested was to create jump-cuts of Ki-taek’s actions. In the end, the audience didn’t miss out on anything. There were no problems with continuity, yet we achieved the rhythm we were aiming for.”

“Parasite”

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By contrast, the chaotic “Ram-don” sequence defines the third act. The Park family unexpectedly returns home from a camping trip because of a rainstorm, flipping the con game on its head and forcing the Kims to improvise a dish of “Ram-don.” “One of the problems we faced while editing was that the pacing of certain shots was lagging,” Yang said. “This went against the chaotic energy we were looking for.”

One solution was to stitch together wonderfully rhythmic shots. “For example, there is an overhead shot of Chung-sook’s [Chang Hyae-jin] hands preparing the ‘ram-don.’ The problem was that Chung-sook’s movements were too slow, making shot too monotonous,” added Yang. “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.”

“Parasite”

Neon

Toward the film’s finale, the violent struggle in the underground bunker also involved the creative stitching of characters to make them appear closer together within a single shot. “Through this technique, we were able to create the exact beats and rhythms we wanted,” said Yang. “Although subtle, these adjustments furthered the chaotic energy we were pursuing.”

The most difficult shot to edit, though, was the tipping point evident on  Ki-taek’s face during the climactic party, when the cumulative impact of social humiliation turns him into a killer. “That moment, the expression of disgust by him, and even after the stabbing, we see a glimpse of his face, and we really had to sell the emotion,” Yang said. “It was a gradual process. We spent two days just sifting through the possible expressions he has during that moment. One thing I’ve witnessed is how director Bong is sensitive to facial expressions. That sort of sensitivity was a lesson that I really absorbed on ‘Parasite.'”

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