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Meeting Harry Yoon, a Korean-American Film Editor Performing in Hollywood

Oct 05, 2021
  • Writerby KIM Subin
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"A good cut still feels like magic to me." 


Executive Producer, Kevin Feige, and Harry Yoon


Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, a Marvel film that announced the emergence of a new superhero, has proved the power of theaters by making nearly $400 million in profits at the global box office only a month after its release. Thanks to the encouraging achievements of the film, which became the top box office hit in North America this year, Disney pronounced that they would exclusively release all of their remaining new films in theaters this year. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Ringswas completed by Asian creators, including directors and main actors, and the Korean-American film editor Harry Yoon is an indispensable figure when we discuss the vast story and cheerful action of the film. Director Harry Yoon is a film director who has strengthened his career in Hollywood by editing the films Minari and Detroit, TV series Euphoria, as well as editing VFX for The Revenant and Zero Dark Thirty. We interviewed Harry Yoon, an active Korean-American film editor working in Hollywood via e-mail.


 A Korean-American Film Editor Harry Yoon 


- We’re curious about how you could edit Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

=Shang Chi’s schedule was delayed several months due to Covid-19. One of the original editors - Elisabet Ronaldsdottir - had to leave for another film after the Director’s Cut phase was complete. I was recommended to the director, Destin Daniel Cretton, and was one of several editors they interviewed to take over for her.  I was lucky enough to be hired at the start of the Producer’s Cut phase in January 2021, which is usually the most intense time for post-production on a Marvel film.


- What was the key point while you were editing Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings?

=Thanks to our amazing directors, choreographers and stunt people, we knew we had great action set pieces in place. We wanted to make sure that the family story at the heart of the film was as compelling for the audience as the action. In addition, we knew that we were introducing Asian and Asian American culture as a facet of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Destin wanted to be sure we got the details right and honored the cultures we were depicting.


- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings features a variety of different places, including modern San Francisco and Macau, the Ten Rings Empire where modern and ancient times are mixed, and the legendary Talo, and the atmosphere of the film changes depending on each place. I wonder what editing principles you applied to each space.

=I don’t think our editing style changed from location to location, but we always wanted to make sure the details were in place so that the audience got a sense of place. For example, for Macau, Destin wanted to be sure we got a taste of the youth culture and the very active street food culture of that place before we entered our key location of the underground fight club. For a place like Ta Lo, we took some time to show moments of everyday life there - craftspeople, exercise, and sports - so that it felt like a community where people actually lived.


- Flashbacks appear quite often, too. I wonder how you wanted to use flashbacks in this work.

=The flashbacks were a brilliant result of restructuring by Destin, Nat Sanders and Elisabet Ronaldsdottir during the Director’s Cut phase. In the script, most of the past scenes are played in chronological order. However, when they watched the first cuts, it took too long before our hero, Shang Chi, appeared in the movie. They decided to interweave the flashbacks into more of the “present day” story to introduce Shang Chi earlier. We continued to refine the use of these flashbacks and how they informed the present story until the very end of our process.


 The three editors of Shang-Chi - Nat Sanders, Elisabet Ronaldsdottir, Harry Yoon


- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings shows various action scenes from one-on-one fights to gigantic actions utilizing the sea and the sky. It's also the biggest attraction of the movie. While editing the action scenes, what points did you pay attention to most?

=The action was so fun to edit. We tried to balance many elements in editing the action. First, we wanted to honor the incredible work of our fight choreographers, stunt team, camera team, and actors in capturing each moment. We preserved their work as much as possible, even starting with some of their selected takes. That said, we also needed to keep the overall pace of the movie in mind. There were times we had to cut some sections of the fights because they were playing too long as the movie began to tighten up in structure and pace. We also worked very closely with the VFX teams to enhance the fighting with the appropriate visual effects, especially in the later fights that involve the ten rings.


- I wonder if you referred to the original comics or other Marvel movies for your work. Tell me if there are any other films you have referred to.

=I had watched all the previous Marvel films and even re-watched most of them just before I started working. It was wonderful to be re-introduced to the perfect balance of action, humor and character development that they achieved in the past. It was a great standard to keep in mind as we worked on Shang Chi. As for the comic books, Shang Chi was a character that I was not familiar with before I started interviewing for this job. I went back and re-read some of the original stories but found that our version of the character is very different in many important ways than the original comic book, which I think is a good thing.


- What is your favorite scene from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings that you edited yourself?

=I think the final scenes between Shang Chi and Wenwu in front of the demon gate. There is a good mix of action and family drama that happens there that we took great pains to balance. I also really love the final scene between Shang Chi, Katy and their friends in the bar at the end of the film.


- I'd like to know when editing starts during the overall process of filmmaking. For example, do you edit after the CG work is done, or edit the footage first and start CG work?

=On a VFX heavy film like Shang Chi, editing usually begins before shooting. The team starts to edit animated storyboards called “pre-visualization” or “pre-viz” so that the entire crew has a sense of what angles, setups, blocking, and actions will be shot to tell the story. This kind of work is very critical because shooting and visual effects work can be costly unless you have a very detailed plan. 


Harry Yoon on the red carpet for Shang Chi's premiere


- You've experienced everything from blockbuster movies to low-budget art films. I think each movie has a different vibe and each director or production company wants something different, too. I wonder what kind of difference is there depending on the size of the work.

=No matter what the budget level, I think the key challenges for an editor remain the same - understand the vision that the director is trying to achieve - and determine, step by step, how to achieve that vision through picture and sound. That said, when you work on a film of this scale, your day can look very different. For example, the crew on Minari was only 2 people (me and my assistant editor, Irene Chun). The editorial crew on Shang Chi was 15 people!


- The film Minari is a personal story that draws empathy from many audiences. On the other hand, Marvel Cinematic Universe aims to build a broad consensus with stories that anyone can be relatable as it has a huge fan base globally. I wonder if the difference between the two styles also affected your work.

=One way the process differed is how we screened early cuts of the film. For Minari, we had a few tests screenings, and we were very curated in who we invited. One of the fascinating things about the Marvel process is that they test the film with a large audience many times. And when they review the feedback “cards” from the audience, even one smart comment or critique can lead us to try a new idea or make something clearer. I was very impressed at how much time and effort Marvel took to make sure we could delight the most number of people.


- At the interview with KoBiz earlier, producer Christina Oh mentioned the working process of Minari with you this way; “Not only does he have a great editing eye, but he understands both Korean and English which was important when it came to editing scenes with a lot of Korean dialogue. But Harry is also great with the story and understanding the American side of things. His knowledge of both ends of the spectrum really helped create an immersive environment to view the film.” Could you tell me what it means to have a Korean descendent identity to you?

=I have always embraced my Korean identity and love the culture that I grew up with. I think it’s because I was close to my family growing up and lived for several years in Seoul after I graduated from college in America. I think Korean identity is a complex thing, but one of the ways I look at it is that I’m not surprised in life by difficult things. I know that part of life is to suffer. But I think that suffering magnifies the joys of life - loved ones, good food, etc. I think Koreans are passionate people because they revel in both the highs and lows.


 Photo on the mix stage during the sound mix


- I read an article that said you moved to Hollywood at the age of 31 after building up your career in the technical field. Could you tell us how you first started editing? 

=It’s true. Editing was a big career change for me. I started at the bottom as an intern and a PA and worked my way up the ladder. My first big break came when I was hired to be an apprentice editor on Lords of Dogtown about three years after my move to Los Angeles. I was also very lucky to have many incredible mentors that helped me along the way - editors like Stephen Mirrione, Sabrina Plisco, Billy Fox, Billy Goldenberg, Troy Takaki, Mark Yoshikawa and Lisa Lassek.


- Why did you choose to edit among many roles in filmmaking?

=I love the process. I love being the first person in the world to see a scene as it develops. A good cut still feels like magic to me.


- You also edited VFX for The Revenant, Zero Dark Thirty, and The Hunger Games. What kind of jobs did you do while editing VFX?

=VFX editing is primarily a job of communication and organization. You act as the liaison between the cutting room and all the teams of VFX people who are working on shots. You inform them of changes that happen during the editorial process. Once you receive shots back from the VFX companies, you cut them into the movie and make sure you show them to the director and editor(s) to get feedback. In addition, a VFX creates mock-ups or very rough VFX shots themselves to help a director and editor(s) determine the timing of a VFX shot or if a VFX related idea will help the cut.


- Could you tell us your plan for the next work?

=I’m working on a documentary now for Nike that is being produced by Virgil Abloh. After that, I will be editing a pilot for A24/Netflix and then a feature film about a boxer for MGM. 

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