Jason Yu

Source: Lotte Entertainment

Jason Yu

Formerly an assistant director to director Bong Joon Ho, Korean filmmaker Jason Yu is making his feature directorial debut in Critics’ Week Competition with horror comedy mystery Sleep, which Palme d’Or and Oscar-winning director Bong has lauded as “the most unique horror film and the smartest debut film I’ve seen in 10 years”.

The film stars Jung Yu-mi from Train To Busan and Lee Sun-kyun from Parasite - also to be seen in Midnight Screenings title Project Silence at this Cannes - as a young couple before and after the birth of their first child when the husband’s sleeping habits become increasingly grotesque and they try to find out why before he harms the newborn.

It will premiere in Cannes on May 21.

How did you start making films?
It was only in college when I happened to take a creative writing class and came to see films not just as something to consume but as stories that are crafted by people. I wrote short stories and joined a film club where we made short films. I realised I wanted to keep making them after graduation so when I came back to school after my mandatory military service, I worked on film sets like [director Jang Cheol-soo’s hit] Secretly, Greatly (2013). For director Bong Joon Ho’s Okja (2017), I was hired as part of the assistant directors team because of my experience on sets and ability to speak English after living in the UK when I was younger as well as going to an English-language international programme at Yonsei University.

How did you write the script?
My initial goal was to create a fun genre film but whilst writing the script, some personal elements seeped into it. I was preparing to marry my longtime girlfriend and that’s probably why I decided to make the protagonists a married couple and have the story revolve around their relationship. I do think, on a subconscious level, I wanted to create a different kind of marriage story. In the films I watched about marriage, the central conflict comes from each other, but because I was on the cusp of married life, I wanted to show a couple that really loved each other dearly and supported each other as best friends. And then throw an obstacle in their way to show they could overcome it together.

I wrote it intensively over the summer of 2020 and showed the script to director Bong Joon Ho that autumn. We met because he was about to suggest I work on another project of his but after reading the script, he said he enjoyed reading it and that I should go straight into casting and encouraged me to make my debut.

How did the production come together?
One of the production companies of Okja, which I worked on in 2015, was Lewis Pictures and the president is Lewis Taewan Kim. Although I was the lowest of the low on the totem pole and he was the highest of the high, he always treated me with respect and said to me, “If you ever have a script, don’t hesitate to show it to me,” and that’s exactly what I did. I showed it to him in 2020, a few days after director Bong, and he shopped it around for financing. We started pre-production in November 2021 and shot from February to April 2022.


Source: Cannes International Film Festival


Tell us how the casting happened with these well-known stars for a first-time director.
Jung Yu-mi and Lee Sun-kyun have the ability to nail genre acting while making their performances feel so grounded in reality and this is what I precisely needed for Sleep. I always wanted them for the film but I can’t say I cast them. They chose the film. They told me they enjoyed the script every much. I did get to meet the actors and pitch to them why they should be in this film directed by a debuting director. Lee and Jung also liked that they’d be working together again – because they had been in three Hong Sangsoo films and a short film together and had always wanted to work together again.

How did you go about shooting the film?
The cinematographer Kim Tae-soo (Svaha: The Sixth Finger) and I agreed the rule of thumb was to always shoot it in a way that perfectly accentuates each character’s psychology or how they are feeling. We always wanted to be in their perspectives, whether it was the wife or the husband. We didn’t want to deviate from that – for example have an omniscient presence, have one of those overhead shots or have shots that slide through the walls or something like that. We wanted every single cut to follow how the characters are feeling and have the camera have the same physical limitations as the characters. Which was quite a big challenge for the cinematographer because there are horror elements to the film, and what is horror without style? But I think ultimately it was the right choice.

Like with the actors, I couldn’t have done this without him, or our editor Han Mee-yeon who also edited The Voice Of Silence, Beasts Grasping At Straws and was also the on-set editor on Okja and agreed to join the team without even reading the script. She was a great help, guiding me through the post-production process.

How was the shoot?
The shoot was very fun. They say a debuting director is the least experienced person on set, which was true. But I didn’t feel the pressure from that. Everybody understood the vision and if I didn’t know something, they were happy to teach me and none were condescending at all. What I really loved about this project was how passionate the cast and crew were about it. They were so precious about the project. Whenever there were any producorial obstacles that made me contemplate cutting out a scene or shortening something, they would insist on keeping it and we always exchanged ideas on how to circumvent those obstacles.

It’s impressive that it all happened during the pandemic.
We were incredibly lucky to have this film greenlit and made during the pandemic when the market was so bad. People said it was a miracle. I am eternally grateful to our producers and investors who made it work. It was in the height of Covid and some people did have to self-quarantine. Some days we had to shoot without the production designer or the first AD or line producer and that was incredibly challenging but somehow we scrambled to make it work and ploughed through.

What are you working on next?
Other filmmakers have advised me this is the best time to write and I tried to think about a new project during post-production. I do have a couple of ideas floating around but nothing concrete - but I ended up feeling immensely guilty and it felt almost like I was cheating on Sleep with this other project. So I’m just going to give it my all for Sleep, whether it’s for promotion or post-production until it’s released this autumn.

Yu spoke in both Korean and English, with comments translated and lightly edited to fit this article space.