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Screenwriters' Lecture Series 2019: Bong Joon-ho

13 December 2019

Transcript from the 2019 Screenwriters' Lecture Series: Bong Joon-ho, Thursday 12th December 2019, Curzon Mayfair, London

Hi, I’m Jeremy Brock.  Welcome to BAFTA’s last 2019 Screenwriters Lecture.  Our thanks to all the staff on the learning and events team and the crews who film these events for BAFTA’s Guru website.  We’re enormously proud of now having over 50 lectures from the greatest living screenwriters available online to anyone anywhere in the world.  Our special thanks to the Curzon who have been housing these lectures while BAFTA gets the costliest makeover since Prince Andrew appeared on Newsnight.  Finally I’d like to add my personal thanks to the amazing Lucy Guard and the JJ Charitable Trust for funding this series over the past 10 years and for remaining so insightful and so constant through a period of such radical change in the filmmaking landscape.  Before I introduce our final speaker, I’d like to take this opportunity to address an issue that’s arisen around the relationship between our lecture series and some of the distributors of this year’s films and their screenwriters.  I’ve said before that no successful narrative based motion picture could exist without the template of the screenplay, which envisions the key elements of plot, character and, crucially, the shaping of key themes and ideas through story.  In my opinion, well rehearsed but always worth repeating, the screenplay is the sine qua non of film.  There is however another issue, one less well rehearsed.  Screenplays like their eventual manifestations in film must negotiate the inherently disingenuous imperatives of commercial cinema.  The “we let you call it art but don’t fuck with our profits” paradigm, that governs the subtext of every award season handshake, every PR smile and every car that carries the talent to and from promotional meetings.  But the commercial behemoths, who finance films, be they streamers or studios, do their talent a huge disservice if they consider these lectures as merely another stop on the award season circuit.  Not because their indifference has any impact on the commercial success or failure of the films they are promoting, but because this series does not operate by the same metrics, and neither do the screenwriters who embrace it.  The screenwriters’ lectures have a far higher ambition than merely to promote someone else’s product.  For as Celine Sciamma put it so exquisitely in her lecture this year, the desire that drives all writers to the subject of their story, is the exact same desire in all of us for catharsis and expiation.  The human need to understand itself through the manner of fiction is a profound and honourable need.  Even when smashed up against the babble of multimedia algorithms fashioned by accountants.  When the noise of the award seasons has faded, when the circus finally leaves town, the stories are what remain.  Like the profound and openhearted insights of our best lectures, the reflections they offer us are co-terminus with the desire to understand ourselves better.  That is the high and legitimate ambition of this series in relation to the art of screenwriting.  Stories, intimate, universal, stories with their prominence in the written word are why we are here and so tonight it gives me huge pleasure to introduce one of the world’s most original and vivid storytellers, the writer and director Bong Joon-ho, winner of this year’s Palme D’Or and the National Board of Review’s Best Foreign Film for his exquisite movie “Parasite”, he is also the writer and director of among other films, “Memories of Murder”, “Mother” and “Snowpiercer”.  As always, we’ll begin with a montage by this year’s speakers. To avoid anything lost in translation, Bong Joon-ho will talk very briefly, then he’ll be in conversation with one of the UK’s greatest film journalists, the critic and author Ian Haydn Smith, with the help of translator Sharon Choi.  After that we’ll open it up as we always do to questions from the floor.  So could we have the montage please, thank you?


[Montage plays]




Ladies and Gentlemen, Bong Joon-ho.


Bong Joon-ho:  Good evening, thanks for coming.  It’s great Sharon to be here.  I can speak a little bit of English, but she’s perfect, so we have a great translator here, so I hope I can speak Korean here, so.


Translator:  I am so honoured to be invited to the BAFTA Screenwriters Lecture Series.  I’ve heard that not anyone can be up here, so it’s a great honour.  I am a huge fan of some of the other speakers that came here like Almodovar and Noah Baumbach.  I’m just so honoured and happy to be included amongst them.  During the past 20 years I have directed 7 feature films but I also wrote all the screenplays for those works, so before I am a director I’m a screenwriter and I have a lot of pride in that.  So I would like to use this time to really discuss the art of screenwriting.  I’m sure a lot of you here are screenwriters, filmmakers and people who work in the industry and he earlier mentioned the thing about the awards and the campaign, but I would really like to focus on screenwriting for this occasion.  So on our way here there was a lot of traffic and I know there’s always a lot of traffic in London but the city has always been such a big inspiration for me.  It has given me such good energy over the years.  Yesterday I met a friend here and we passed by Covent Garden.  Whenever I pass Covent Garden I always think of Hitchcock.


BJ:  One of my most favourite scene of Alfred Hitchcock movie – his quite late movie – 1972 “Frenzy”, you know the very famous, that second murder sequence, the horrible thing happen inside of the room and the camera very slowly track back, crane movement to the outside the street under the broad daylight.  It is one of the most beautiful murder sequences in the movies.


Translator: So that’s one of my favourite scenes and Hitchcock said himself that a murder that happens inside, rather than a murder that happens in the back alleyway under the rain, a murder that happens under broad daylight during the day is always more fascinating and that’s kind of been the motto of my career when I’m writing a script or shooting my film that quote is always hovering inside my brain.

You’ll be able to understand what I say if you think about the opening scene of Memories of Murder or the climactic scene in Parasite.  And I cannot not mention Whitechapel.


BJ:  When I was writing a script of Memories of Murder, the movie based on the serial killer case in South Korea under the military dictatorship in 1980s, at that time I spent very hard time


Translator:  It’s not easy to write a story based on true cases, so it was quite a struggle writing the script.  So at the time I was invited to the London Film Festival and had the opportunity to walk around Whitechapel.  And my British friend gave me the graphic novel “From Hell” by Alan Moore as a gift.  So the graphic novel provides a great portrayal of the times, not only about Jack the Ripper and the unsolved murders, but the surrounding environment when the murders happened.  It was a huge inspiration for me.  And then afterwards I returned to Korea and focused on writing my script.  So even these days I’m working on my next script.  Despite how crazy the campaign schedule is I’ve been trying to make time during flights and in my hotel to work on my next script.  So after we enjoy this great conversation today I hope to return to Korea and get over my writer’s block and feel the freedom of being able to write.  I hope London is always the city that helps me get over writer’s block as it always has been.  Thank you.


Ian Haydn Smith:  So, just listening to you talk just now about Covent Garden and Whitechapel it struck me that in the near future, should the film career not work out for you, you could do a really great cinematic walking tour of murders all around London.  People would love it.


Translator:  I think I would make a great guide.


IHS:  You were talking about the season at the moment, the award season, which can be crazy, but in a normal working day, what’s your perfect writing scenario, are you an early morning person, is it where the inspiration takes you?


Translator:  So I tend to go to bed early and wake up early.  I wake up around 5.30am and start rummaging through the fridge. 

BJ:  My town, nearby my home, there is some great cafes so I always write screenplays in cafes or some coffee shop in the corner.


Translator:  So if I go to these coffee shops in the morning it’s very quite, so I usually write there. 


IHS:  Have you always wanted to write?


Translator:  Yeah, it’s my job.


IHS:  But how early in your life did you decide that you wanted to write?


Translator:  So it all started from drawing comics when I was 5 or 6 years old.  I would make separate blocks and draw but of course I would have to write the dialogue.


IHS:   I know that your maternal grandfather, Park Taewon, was one of the highly regarded modernist writers and I just wonder in the family was there an encouragement for you to work towards a more artistic, creative path.


Translator:  So he’s my grandfather on my mother’s side but I never actually met him because during the Korean War he went up to North Korea and our family were separated.  It was impossible for North Koreans and South Koreans to communicate, so although I did hear that he was a famous writer and left many masterpieces before the Korean War I never had a lot of opportunities to read his work when I was young and my family didn’t really talk about him.


BJ:  I was born in 1969.  In 1970 this very harsh military dictatorship under the regime it means the whole society is super conservative and super anti-communism mentality the society has.


Translator:  Although he was a famous writer, because he went up to North Korea, it was difficult to talk about him considering the conservative atmosphere, it was difficult for our family to gather and really bring him up.  But my father was a graphic designer so at home he often drew illustrations so rather than novels I focused on drawing and drawing comics.  My grandfather, he felt very distant, sort of like a man in a legend.


IHS:  You have this interest in comics.  At what point did you start to take writing seriously?  Were you coming up with ideas because I know you didn’t study film initially, but when did that bug, the desire, to write for film come about?


Translator:  There are a couple of moments throughout my life, the films that I watched when I was little that shocked me a lot, stories that reached me.   I would like to talk about it according to when I accessed them throughout the years.


BJ:  When I saw Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” the first time on Korean television, at the time I was 8 years old.


IHS:  This explains a lot [laughter]


Translator:  And I watched Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “The Wages of Fear” when I was 9 years old and I remember being completely overwhelmed by that film.  And also John Schlesinger’s “Marathon Man” written by William Goldman, I saw that film when I was 11 and just remember my palms sweating.  So, when I was in elementary school I went through so much cinematic trauma because these are very horrific films.


BJ:  Very naturally I was curious about who made this behind the camera, the director, and also who wrote the story.  I was so curious about it.


Translator:  And I started delving deep into the art of it.


IHS:  So let’s jump forward 20 years and in college you made a couple of short films and then you came out and in 1997 “Motel Cactus” which you wrote but wasn’t directed by you and then 2 years later “Phantom: The Submarine” came out.  I was reminded of a line by Billy Wilder where he talked about watching his screenplay filmed by other people and it made him realise that if he was ever going to see his film on the screen, his screenplay filmed correctly, he would have to direct it.  Was that a similar instance for you?


BJ:  For example, you just mentioned the Phantom: The Submarine.  It’s quite strange the submarine movie.


Translator:  I wrote it to make a living; it was purely for my livelihood.  I have one son and he was a little baby at that time.  So by writing that script I was able to afford 100 bottles of milk.


BJ:  It’s not a bad movie but it is slightly cheesy and very…


Translator:  It was a very macho movie.  But it was a great experience because it allowed me to practice having mastery over the entire structure of the feature film, but I definitely didn’t project my own mentality and vision into the project because it was given to another director and producer to actualise.  So while writing it I had to maintain a certain level of distance between myself and the script.  I would be the one writing but I would be like ‘oh, how funny, what a scene to watch’.


BJ:  Wow, how cheesy this sequence is. 


Translator:   But I realised that if I continue working like that I would become schizophrenic so I should stop, although it is really important to maintain a livelihood.


IHS:  The main body of the conversation that I want us to have is about these 7 films and I’m going to jump around them, not just go chronologically and I thought it would be good to start most recently in the present with Parasite and I am under very, very strict orders that I can talk no more than the first 25/30 minutes of the film just in case there is anyone in the audience who hasn’t seen Parasite.  So what we are going to do is see from about a minute into the film, this is an introduction to the Kim family.  If we can screen the clip please:


[Clip plays]




IHS:  I just wanted to show a slightly longer clip to open with because I wanted to get a full picture of this family.  Each character is so distinct and defined very quickly within this film, I’m curious about the creation process with this, alongside writing the storyline, did you have some notes of what each character would be and how they were defined or did that just out naturally of the writing of the screenplay?


Translator:   I don’t really separate the characters from the plot or the situation and come up with years’ worth of background story for each character I tend to jump very quickly into the situations.  I really think of the surface actions and situations that happen within a story and then meanwhile I continue thinking about well then who are these characters.  So I first really focus on the actions that they would do in the story.  I’m not saying that that’s the best method to write.  I always believe that the specific actions are the most important part of a character and I don’t always believe that actions are consistent.  Of course if I become too focused on that idea it comes with the risk of the characters becoming inconsistent but I’m not really afraid of that when I’m writing.


IHS:  And with peripheral characters sometimes we see characters that appear in one scene walk through a scene, other characters, such as the drunken man, again do those characters come out of the creation of the main characters that you’re writing in reaction to how they may respond.


Translator:   Unless it’s a film like Castaway where you have Tom Hanks on an isolated island by himself I think all characters are developed through interactions with one another, so and because particularly with Parasite because the entire narrative is developed through this one unit of family.  If you look at everyone’s actions and the way they treat each other, the things they say to each other, it becomes very easy to understand their individual personality.  Even with that one drunk man on the streets the 4 different family members all have different attitudes towards that 1 character, so these characters are developed through the filter of these peripheral characters.  Within the couple of minutes of the clip that you saw I tried to really briefly show the distinct personalities of each family member and the situation that they’re surrounded in through those couple of minutes because right after this scene you have many events just happening successively after this you see the rock.


IHS:  So, with this sequence there’s so much information and mise-en-scene is something I want to come onto later and the creation in the screenplay but there’s one tiny detail that I love in this.  We see the photo of the mother as an athlete and an award on the wall.  And if we’re going back to Hitchcock it reminded me of the opening of Rear Window where we have 2 ½ minutes of music, no dialogue, and we know everything we need to know about James Stewart’s character.  Every time I watch this film that’s a detail that stays with me.  Who is this person?  How did she end up here?  What was the path that she wanted to take in her life?  And it is one single split second shot.  It’s so important.


Translator:  I don’t think that scene tries to explain in detail what this character went through. What you see is that she used to be an athlete and she had a very muscular figure and then you cut to her in the present state where she’s in this really dingy house just crashed down on the floor and I think that contrast itself is very interesting and helpful.  So I can’t go into detail about the second half of this film for people who haven’t watched it yet but later in the film her physical strength really comes into play, although this is not an action film.   So it was important to establish that in the beginning of this film.  And also it was important in establishing her relationship with her husband because the protagonist’s father, he’s unemployed, he’s kind of pathetic as a character, and physically he’s much overpowered by his wife, you know he fears her strength within the relationship, so this was to briefly establish just how strong this woman is.  And I think the fact that this medal is within a frame says a lot on its own because there’s was a time when everything worked out for her, when she was winning all these awards, but it’s all framed within the past.  Her present, she’s in this pathetic stage in her life and I think just the fact that this medal’s in that frame delivered that sense. 


IHS:  I want to stay with openings and go back to 2000 and the opening sequence, much shorter sequence from your first film as writer/director “Barking Dogs Never Bite”.  In this sequence Yun-ju the main actor is talking to someone on the phone who’s just berated him for not applying to become a professor at his college and the conversation, as you’ll see is interrupted by something outside the flat.  If we can show the clip please.


BJ:  This is very stupid black comedy moment, please don’t see that all movie.


[Clip plays]




IHS:  I don’t know if you know this about British audiences but you could have someone thrown off the building, no one would bat an eyelid, but you throw a dog off the building everyone is up in arms.  We should add at this point that many animals were actually harmed during the making of that film [laughter].


Translator:  I never imagined that I would watch this scene here. 


BJ:  It’s very stupid the serial puppy killing movie, so I am so sorry.


IHS:  OK but what I love about it, I remember Michael Haneke, seeing him speak talking about screenwriting, and he says that if he has an idea, he’ll keep it, if he gets another idea that’s similar he’ll put that next to it, and if he gets a third idea then he thinks he’s got something.  This has so many different ideas going in it.  I’m just curious about the course of your career as a writer and director.  Do you have a process by which you draw these ideas together and you know it’s a good idea and you know it’s something that would make a screenplay?


Translator:  I don’t know how I can really generalise my process over the past 7 features but there have always been specific moments of inspiration and motivation.  For Barking Dogs Never Bite when I was in elementary school I went up to the rooftop of a very luxurious apartment complex and I saw a dead dog and the dog was a little bit burnt and to see that was so shocking and it is a traumatic memory and at the time I remember I thought of who would do such a thing and I started creating stories of who might have done this and so later on when I was working and trying to create my first feature I recalled some of those memories to come up with the story.  And that apartment that you see in this film it’s actually the place I lived in when I was a newlywed with my wife so it carries a lot of details from my own daily life and particularly with the recycling scenes.  And at the time my brother had finished his PhD and was really struggling to get a job as a professor so it was quite similar to the main protagonist of this film.  So if you combine the 3 elements that I just mentioned the movie’s already begun.


IHS:  Which in a way we jump forward to Parasite and I heard you saying that part of the inspiration for that film was going to work for a very wealthy family and wondering what it would be like if you could get other people to work for you. 


Translator:   It is quite common for college students to have tutoring jobs and when I was in college I tutored for a very rich family, I taught a middle school boy and one day he took me to their private sauna on the second floor in their house and, you know, inevitably I got to witness their private space and I felt like I was peeping into the private lives of complete strangers and I felt a sense of guilty pleasure from that.  I knew it was wrong but I was continuing to get curious, so those memories are very vivid, it’s quite similar to the opening scenes of Parasite.  And the person who introduced me to that tutoring job was actually my girlfriend at the time.  She was already teaching Korean to that middle school boy and he needed a math tutor and so she brought me on as a math tutor and so that’s how I came to work for that family.  That girlfriend is now my wife, so it’s quite similar to the beginnings of Parasite.  And, you know, it all ended there, it wasn’t as if I infiltrated into that family further and brought in 5 people into their house but those memories were very helpful when I was writing the script.


IHS:  So if I were to take 4 of your films, Barking Dogs Never Bite, Memories of Murder, Mother and Parasite, I would see one aspect of a filmmaker and think I had a good idea of his work, but there are 3 other films that don’t jar against the other 4 but just expand the range of your work so much.  Speculative fiction I’d argue more than straightforward science fiction, which started in 2006 with The Host, which was a huge breakout hit, and again, I know we’re rushing with clips here, but I’d like to show this because looking at genre as a writer I always think it’s a fascinating thing and I think there are very few writers who deal with genre as brilliantly and as challengingly as you do in the way that you mash genres together, so if we just see the clip.  This is the appearance in The Host, the first appearance of the monster.  You’ve got a little bit of comedy, you sense the family drama going on and there is this crazy environment that’s going on outside.  If we can show the next clip please:


[Clip plays]




IHS:  Before we touch on genre, she comes out of the van and kicks the can and the can breaks and the sound of the liquid pouring out, as that dies down the sound comes up on the screaming.  How much are details like that part of the screenplay and how much does that enter into post-production.


BJ:  It was all in the script.  All in description. 


Translator:  So I think it’s similar for many writer/directors as you’re writing the script you’re constantly thinking about the sound and you are thinking about how to shoot the film as you’re writing.  In that moment you have this contrast between a small disaster and a big disaster.  This family owns a little kiosk in the river park and you know she kicks the beer can out of frustration and because of that they can no longer sell that beer can so it’s a very small disaster that happens and a second later the true disaster unfolds, so you have that contrast and this contrast repeatedly comes up again in this film towards the end.  And usually in a monster film monsters kill people or they eat up people, but in this scene you have the monster tying the girl up with his tail and taking her along with him and this is a decisive moment in the plot that makes this film quite different from normal monster movies.  The Host has the appearance of a monster movie but it’s really a kidnap movie and the kidnapper is the monster here and the entire plot is essentially about the father trying to save his daughter.  And 10 minutes after this scene, you know, the father receives a phone call from the daughter that he presumed dead and that’s when the plot really begins.


IHS:  It is, on what level you say it’s a monster movie, then it becomes a kidnap movie, to watch Memories of Murder you would think straightaway that this is a police procedural film, and I will say, anyone who hasn’t seen it, watch that and then watch David Fincher’s Zodiac, which is a couple of years later, and he must have watched that film to make Zodiac. What’s interesting about it is it doesn’t become just a police procedural, there’s humour in there, but it’s more the character study of the cops themselves.  You’ve made 3 films that some people might call sci-fi.  This film Snowpiercer and Okja, each of them seems to jump around within genres.  I’m just curious, the idea of genre filmmaking and particularly speculative fiction something of alternate reality, does that give you a platform to be able to explore things that you might not otherwise be able to explore in perhaps a contemporary environment?


Translator:  Although there are rules to these conventions in genre, by relying on those genre elements I think you can more easily get to the realities of our world and the essence of what it means to be human and I think that’s why science fiction is so appealing.  For Snowpiercer I tried to be quite faithful to the genre of science fiction and for The Host and Memories of Murder I kind of wanted to insult the genre conventions by bringing these western genre conventions into a Korean narrative, I wanted to break those conventions and get to the pleasure of destroying them.  These genre conventions that we commonly know of were established mid twentieth century in the US, but if you bring those American genre conventions to Korean reality where I was born and raised, the conventions start to malfunction.  As I break these genre conventions the narrative starts to have these cracks and through those cracks I end up the realities of Korea begin to seep and that’s why you have the strange mixture of humour and, you now, fractures, and with Memories of Murder from the very beginning you see the detective and you are introduced to the detective character on a tractor, they barely have proper police lines set up, the crime scene is a mess, so at that moment it’s quite different, it’s quite different from the Hollywood thriller films that you normally see.


BJ:  Also with The Host that we saw before it’s a monster movie, monster genre, but the main protagonist, the main characters, they are a very malfunctional family.  All losers..


Translator:  So in that film you don’t get any generals, you don’t get any scientists, you don’t get any of those great heroes, and it’s actually just this pathetic family struggling to save the daughter.


BJ:  And also the clip you saw you know is the very beginning part of the movie, so actually you know the monster film, the genre convention, generally we have to wait almost 1 hour to see the tail of the monster or the foot of monster.  At that time I really hated that, those kinds of conventions, so I showed the whole body of the monster under broad daylight.


Translator:  So 13 minutes into the film you get to see the entirety of the monster in broad daylight and I was quite stubborn about that.  I really wanted to destroy these genre conventions.  And also part of the reason was I had so much to tell aside from the monster.  After you see the monster there is so much to tell about the story and the society and system that couldn’t protect or support that family and also political satire on the US and I just had a lot of stories to tell after he monster was introduced and that’s why it was important to show the monster in the beginning part of this film. 


IHS:  What’s also interesting there if we look from this film and you look at Parasite and you look at the working class element of Snowpiercer and Okja as well, it is in many ways the Anna Karenina principles, the opening line of Tolstoy’s novel that all happy families are alike and each unhappy family is unhappy in their own way.  What’s amazing is that your families are happy.  The circumstances they’re in are very unhappy, but in Parasite, this family gets on and I find it really fascinating that the dynamic in the family is not, if you would watch an American melodrama it’s the dynamic within the family who doesn’t like whom, they are really close knit, they are very very happy, it’s what’s happening outside that world that is very turbulent.


Translator:  With The Host and Parasite, you know, the family they love to mess with each other and they always complain but they get along really well, they always eat together and they hang out together.   In Korea the word family is comprised of 2 Chinese characters that mean to eat and mouth and so I think my families in these stories really represent that aspect of family.  And although these families get along really well it’s not as if you’re watching a Disney movie where they’re crying and confessing their love to each other.


IHS:  I’ve got 2 other areas I want to cover before we open the floor to the audience and I have many more clips that we don’t have time to show, so probably the last clip we’re going to be able to see is not from one of your films, but you’ll see it’s a film that you referenced, I’ve read that you’ve talked about your fascination with the stairs in the house in Psycho.  So we’ve got 2 one-minute clips featuring the stairs and then we can talk about that.  If we can show the next clip please.


[Clip plays]




IHS:  OK, so watching…


BJ:  So beautiful…


IHS:  Especially that shot that goes up to the ceiling and then it’s overhead as he carries her around, but watching those 2 sequences after reading about you talking about them, and then looking at your work, and it struck me, and again I know this is heavily ingrained in your writing, corridors, subways, basements, tunnels, steps going down to basements, any which way that the frame can be cut or divided, it’s really fascinating your mise-en-scene, the way that you create these worlds.


Translator:  I think I like feeling claustrophobic.  I think narrow and suffocating spaces give a certain element of cinematic vitality.  And, particularly, I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with basements, my films always feature basements.  In Psycho as well the basement is very important.  Who hasn’t watched Psycho here?  So this is a spoiler, I assume I can say it, but he’s actually carrying his dead mother in the hallway.  And all of that secret is revealed in the basement.  And it feels quite strange to think of a time 40 years ago when you could watch this film for the first time without knowing what happens and it’s a moment that you can never get back.  And that moment when Martin Balsam is going up the stairs and the camera moves in a very uncanny way and the carpet on the floor is out of focus, I think that’s such a beautiful sequence.  And that overhead shot is not only visually shocking but it actually tells the story and it’s Anthony Perkins in a wig, it’s not the dead mother, and by having that overhead shot you don’t see his face.  And because Anthony Perkins is pretending to be his mother in that wig that wouldn’t be possible to show from a normal eye-level angle, and so by having that overhead shot you don’t know that it’s Anthony Perkins in that disguise.  And so at that moment the camera position becomes the most functional and the most beautiful.


IHS:  What’s also interesting about that is that is, and about Hitchcock’s work in relation to yours, is precision.  If you watch Parasite, whether you’re being taken on a tour of one family’s poor dwellings or whether we’re visiting the wealthy family, we have a complete sense of space of where we are, but not only that the language helps us with that as well.  What struck me, what you’ve done with Parasite is you’ve created people talking over each other in this one environment and this other environment is almost as geometrically perfect in dialogue as it is in the space that the people are speaking in.


Translator:  And so for Parasite, you know, 60% of the story happens in that rich house and that space becomes more and more important as the film progresses.  So, you know, the first half of this film you are introduced to all these characters and you get to see this process of infiltration, you hear a lot of dialogue, but actually that first hour really educates the audience on the structure of the rich house, because only after you have a full understanding, a full three dimensional understanding of the structure of the rich house can the story really, you know, rage on in the second half.  So when the son, the young protagonist arrives at the rich house he sees how big and how beautiful the house is and he’s like wow what a pretty garden and you have the housekeeper saying it’s nice inside too and that line is very funny and carries a lot of connotations, because like Hitchcock’s Psycho in that beautiful house you have so many horrific secrets and events unfolding.


IHS:  I’ve got loads more questions but we have to open the floor to questions.  We’ve got some roving mikes, so one hand shot up there, there’s a microphone being run down to you.


Q:  Thank you very much for coming.  And for your beautiful film which I’ve seen twice now, Parasite, this year.  Thank you.  I want to say it was interesting today how you say you were traumatised as a child by these fantastic films and we’re living in very dark political times now, you were living in a dark political time as a child as well in Korea, how much are you traumatised by the real world and how much do you feel that showing this trauma on the big screen allows us to escape from the trauma?


Translator:  I have a lot of fears about our current society and the times that we live in.  I have a 23 year-old son and I think we all hope that things improve in their generation but I have a lot of fear that nothing will actually improve for him.  But I think in order to face our fears and fight against them we need an opponent.  There should be a clear enemy that we can define, or some target where we know if we destroy that target our lives and, you know, our society will get better.  But it’s never easy to identify these opponents and targets.  I think we live in a very complicated time where it’s hard to discern what we have to do to improve our situation.  In Parasite the young son is a similar age to my own son and you know at the ending of this film he announces that he will purchase the rich house and the visuals look very hopeful and bright, but that’s why you feel even sadder because this boy is talking about a hope that is impossible to actualise. I think that a lot of fear comes from watching that.  Although it brings a lot of fear and sadness I really wanted to portray my anxieties and fears in this film.  I thought that was the honest portrayal of our current times.


Q:   I would like to ask you about the endings.  If you have clarity of the ending of your stories when you start writing.  And also about the titles, what comes first?


Translator:  This is a common process for me but I always let my ideas percolate and I let them develop within my head for around 3-4 years. The actual time I spend writing the script with the computer is usually 4-6 months and so for Parasite I spent 4 months actually writing the script and I wrote around 90% of the script within those 4 months.  Of the montage that you saw earlier you saw scenes from my previous film Mother and for Mother I always had the last image and last scene in mind, from the very beginning even 5-6 years before I completed the script I knew how this film would end and I had the ending even when I only had a page long very short synopsis of this film, so while I was writing the script the ending never changed and I felt like I was writing this entire script so that this story could end with that ending I had in mind.  But Parasite was completely different I had no idea what happened as I was writing.  Oftentimes while writing the script in those 4 months I didn’t know what would happen 10 pages after.  The first half of the film where you have this poor family infiltrating the rich house, I had this idea from the very beginning and developed it for 3-4 years, but I didn’t know what will happen after the family infiltrates the house.  I can’t go into detail right now, but at one point in the film on a very rainy night you hear a doorbell ringing and everything shifts upside down within the story, so the second half of the film came to me in the 3-4 months I spent writing.  But I really enjoyed those 4 months.  Usually when I write I’m in a lot of pain, I become very masochistic, but for Parasite I felt very peaceful, I really enjoyed this very focused process of just writing and creating.


IHS:  Do you write various drafts of a screenplay or do you work on the screenplay as you go along sort of correcting and amending?


Translator:  So with Parasite I didn’t have a lot of drafts.  We began production with version 2.2, so it was my second draft with very minor adjustments.  In the film there’s this scene in the gym where the father covers his eyes and talks about the best plan is no plan and I think that’s the part that I added at the very last moment, it’s quite a long monologue and that’s how the version became 2.2.  And so I draw all my storyboards myself so during my storyboarding process I would change dialogue and lines and do all of that myself and even during post production and when we’re recording ADR I would give the actors new dialogue or at least some of it, so only after post production is complete do I feel like my script is finished.


IHS:  Before we go to the question there, I believe the second question was about the titles, how you pick your titles?


Translator: The marketing team actually hated this title.  The marketing team thought the title was so risky so I said OK I’m open to new ideas, come up with new ideas, so they spent months trying to think of something and then later on called me and were like, let’s just go with Parasite.  But I did explain to them that this film isn’t just trying to make a statement that the poor family are parasites.  It can never be that simple.  The rich family are parasites, I myself am a parasite, so I had to give them a couple of reasons as to why this title was perfect.  If you look at this film the rich family are parasites as well because they rely on the labour that the poor family provides, they are leeching off the poor family in terms of the labour, they can’t wash dishes on their own, they can’t drive themselves and in that sense they are all parasites and I think that’s quite obvious once you watch the film.


IHS:  We’ll take a last question there. 


Q:  I really loved Parasite.  In your writing process what you described is as you write it feels as if the story is telling itself at times.  What I want to know about is are there any moments when you feel like you have to engineer the story?  I’m trying to write and there are moments when I feel like it’s flowing, but there are moments when I really feel like I have to be clever about it and actually make it work between sequences that absolutely flow together and sequences that have a gap between them.


Translator:  So you must be a screenwriter because I think as we’re writing particularly towards the end it becomes something that you can’t really control, it becomes a small universe that rolls on its own, it’s kind of like a little puppy where you let go of the leash and the puppy is running away and you just have to follow.  But I feel very happy when that happens because I’ve already established the causality among the characters and the plot and I’ve set in all the gears and once the gears start rolling it’s like a Swiss watch that rolls on its own and that makes me feel very comfortable and, you know, toward the end all I have to do is add in a couple of parts to make everything work and I think that’s the point when I feel very satisfied. 


IHS:  Unfortunately we are going to have to draw this to a close, but before we do, earlier in his introduction, Jeremy mentioned the organisations who brought all this together and how important they were, from JJ Charitable Trust through to BAFTA and also Curzon for hosting this event.  I will say this is the 10th year and this kind of thing cannot happen without the vision of someone who understands the very idea of what screenwriting is.  And that is Jeremy who himself is an absolutely brilliant screenwriter so thank you very much to Jeremy Brock for being the mastermind behind this.




Also I know, they’ll kill me for naming them, but these things also don’t happen without a group of people who are incredibly dedicated for bringing these events together, so a very big thank you to Maria, to Cassandra, to Julia and to Palumi at BAFTA who are the people who make sure that you come here and you have something like this, as fluid and as wonderful as it is, so thank you also to you guys. 




Thank you very much to Sharon for your translation, but most of all can you please join me in thanking the brilliant Bong Joon-ho.




Thank you.