My Screen Life: Kwak Sin Ae, 'Parasite' producer

The producer of Parasite talks about her life in the film industry

By Jean Noh 2 Dec 2019

My Screen Life: Kwak Sin Ae, 'Parasite' producer

The producer of Bong Joon Ho’s awards contender Parasite on prickly interview questions, her education at Kino magazine and the importance of ‘genuineness’ in film.

Kwak Sin Ae is the producer of Bong Joon Ho’s Palme d’Or winner and awards contender Parasite and is CEO at Seoul-based Barunson Entertainment & Arts Corporation, better known as Barunson E&A. Originally from Busan, she worked in publishing before starting in the film industry as a journalist for magazine Kino in 1994 and then moving into film development, publicity and marketing at Generation Blue Films, LJ Film and Shin Cine. She joined video gaming and film production company Barunson E&A as CEO in charge of film in 2010.

What is the first thing you do when you arrive in your office each day?

I check my emails and these days, all the news-clippings Neon — Parasite’s distributor in the US — sends overnight. It takes me a while to read through all of them with help from Google Translate.

What’s the most impressive answer you’ve ever had in a job interview?

I don’t remember any concrete answers but I watch people to see their attitudes when you ask vague or prickly questions. I guess director Bong has the all-time best attitude. He is earnest and hardworking to the point of being a workaholic. He really does have great character as well as talent.

With whom would you most like to take a meeting?

Director Bong saying he has a new project.

Who helped you most when you were first starting out?

Former Kino editor-in-chief Jung Sung-il, who is now a filmmaker as well as a critic and academic, was the one who asked me to work on Kino and that led to me working in the film industry. I learned so much reporting and studying up on Cannes, the Academy Awards, Cahiers du Cinema, Hollywood structures, Kubrick, Chaplin, neo-realism and New German Cinema — it was like going to two graduate schools at once. I stayed up nights and even now think of it as the most intensive time of my life.

What’s the biggest professional mistake you’ve made?

Not trusting my senses when a person’s reputation was good but I didn’t feel it.

Who do you look up to in the industry?

People like Song Kang-ho and Bong Joon Ho, they all inspire respect in me — people who have gone through long years of difficulties and tough processes to accomplish clearly great things and maintain their great attitudes.

What are your favourite films?

They used to laugh at me at Kino because I loved Pretty Woman. But when you’re feeling blue, films like that are what you can go back to. Working Title Films like Billy Elliot and Love Actually, films like Erin Brockovich. You could say my tastes are all over the place but I also like films made by directors where you think, “No-one else could have made that film,” that have a genuineness to them. That’s why I like directors such as Bong Joon Ho, Park Chan-wook, Choi Dong-won, Alfonso Cuarón, Ken Loach, Stanley Kubrick and others. 

What is your favourite film festival?

Cannes was like a fantasy experience [this year]. I’ve always enjoyed Busan. It’s my hometown, but I get to go on official business and binge on films and meet with film people.

What book are you reading at the moment?

I just started reading a book by Yi Young-Jae, a former colleague at Kino. It’s called Asian Male Body And Transnational Asian Action Film In Cold War Era.

What do you do to unwind, and where do you go?

Ordinarily, pilates. You have to turn your phone off. I also like to read, but that can get me thinking about work, so I go for original novels that I can’t buy the rights to, such as Philip Roth’s books. If it’s a big chunk of relaxation, I like to go to Gotjawal on Jeju Island. I don’t normally like walking but it’s the best feeling to walk on the hiking trail in that forest.

What job would you do if you didn’t work in film?

As a hobby, I’d like to write essays and novels. I majored in Korean language and literature.

What projects are you working on now?

One of them is with director Jo Yongik, a newcomer who won the audience award at Seoul’s Mise-en-scene Short Film Festival in 2017. It’s a coming-of-age melodrama.

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