“The personal is the most creative.” Words originally spoken by Martin Scorsese, then quoted by Bong Joon Ho, then translated into English by Sharon Choi. Three levels of communication. These are the kinds of backflips a translator like Choi must undergo when professionally interpreting someone like Director Bong, who stomped all over 2019 with Parasite. As that film won All of the Awards (including the Oscar for Best Picture), Choi was right by Bong’s side, carefully interpreting not just his speeches, but his red carpet interviews, press junkets, and even Jimmy Fallon appearances. Now, using her own dang words, Choi has delved into her experience for Variety. And the result is nothing short of poetry.
The entire piece is absolutely worth your time, but I’ll highlight a couple choice moments for you. Choi shares some keen insights into the world of interpreting, saying that it forces you to remain in the present moment, rather than constantly reflecting: “Truth is, there is no time to reminisce when you’re interpreting. It’s all about the moment that exists now, and I have to wipe away each memory to make room for the next.” She also explains some of the difficulties in the job, sharing theories from linguists and psychologists that bilingual people know half as many words in both languages as a monolingual person would know in just their one language. Choi also shares some fun Hollywood, star-struck stories: She thirsted over Hot Priest with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, got late night Taco Bell with Celine Sciamma, shut a restaurant down with Lulu Wang, and generally gushed over John Cameron Mitchell — an interaction Bong lightly teased Choi over, even though he’s been up here publicly stanning Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino all over the place.
And finally: Choi brought up the Scorsese quote in relationship to her own film she’s currently developing. Unlike what’s been reported, her film will not be about the awards show season. Instead, it will be “a small story set in Korea that’s close to my heart because, as director Bong quoted the sincere words of Martin Scorsese, ‘the personal is the most creative.'” I am beyond excited for this small story that Choi will be crafting, and excited for Choi’s future — which is, as she puts it, “me and my laptop for a while, and the only translating job I have now is between myself and the language of cinema.”