Sims: Song Kang-ho [who stars as the Kim father] often plays a sort of noble buffoon for you, an everyman, someone the audience can sympathize with. Was he always in your mind for this project?
Bong: It’s not as if I always write with him in mind because he’s a comfortable collaborator. I do give it a lot of thought, but because this film starts with a story of average neighbors and builds to something extreme, to cover that wide range, I thought Song Kang-ho would be the best to handle it. Especially in the climax; his character doesn’t have any lines—it’s the subtle changes in his muscles, the subtle tremors, that have to convince the audience of the entire film. Song has that strength as an actor.
Sims: Before this, you worked on a couple of English-language productions, and I know Snowpiercer was more fraught, while Okja offered more creative freedom. What was it like to return to the Korean industry?
Bong: With Snowpiercer, I didn’t have any issues during the production process. It was basically a Korean film with [English-speaking] actors, because it was produced by CJ Entertainment [the Korean company that also funded Parasite]. During the North American distribution process, we had some issues, but ultimately I got to release it as a director’s cut. Even with Parasite, it’s not as if I wrote this story with the intention to return to Korea. But once I settled everything, I did feel relieved, because I felt I could just have fun playing around with Korean actors in my native language. The budget was much smaller than Okja, around a fifth, so I felt like I could shoot the film with a microscope and focus on the really subtle details.
Sims: Would you want to go back to the scale of Okja, or are you more comfortable with the size of Parasite?
Bong: I love this scale and budget. That’s the reason my next two projects—one is Korean-language and one is Englis- language—both are relatively small, like this one.
Sims: Would you pursue working with Netflix again?
Bong: With Okja, we did have some issues figuring out the theatrical window of the film, but for the process of completing the film, I had their support. That’s why amazing films like Roma ,by Alfonso Cuarón, and The Irishman, by Martin Scorsese, are possible. I met Noah Baumbach in Toronto, and he told me he had a great experience shooting Marriage Story. I think all creators these days would be interested in a partnership with Netflix; now they have more flexibility, and [Netflix will] give you an exclusive theatrical window of four weeks.
Sims: What sort of stories are you looking to tell next?
Bong: The Korean film will be shot in Seoul. I don’t know if you can call it horror or action or thriller, but it’s based on a horrific incident that happened in the city. The English one is based on a true story, a news article from 2016. I’m still figuring out the story itself; I don’t know where it’s going to take me.
Sims: As you’ve been doing the festival tour and beginning Oscar season, has there been anything enjoyable about it?
Bong: I met Noah Baumbach and Adam Driver; recently I had the opportunity to meet David Fincher for something else. Those moments are always inspirational and a great joy. This is my first [Oscar] campaign, so it feels very unfamiliar and new and fun, but I think it’ll be my first and last. When will I ever do this again?