Exclusive: Park Chan-wook Has a Thirst

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The Old Boy director on Korea’s vampire flick

South Korea’s Park Chanwook, creator of films like Old Boy and Lady Vengeance, has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the sickest and most twisted filmmakers this side of Takashi Miike. He’s also a true visionary when it comes to creating artistic cinema which has gained him great respect among his peers. The fact that much of his fanbase Stateside already consists of cult genre fans has gotten many of them excited to see him tackle the vampire genre, something he does in his own inimitable style in Thirst.

Rather than following the traditional path of vampire romance we’ve so much lately, from Twilight to “True Blood,” Director Park has created a darkly humorous film filled with erotic passion one moment and shocking violence the next. It features Korean superstar Song Kang-yo (The Host) as a Catholic priest who undergoes a medical experiment that infects him with a virus that requires him to have a regular intake of blood. When he moves into the home of his childhood friend, he begins to form a bond with his friend’s wife Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin), a meek woman being abused both by her husband and his mother, who quickly falls for the enigmatic priest. As their romance develops sexually, she begins to show signs of vampirism as well, leading to a conflict as she starts to take control of her life.

ShockTilllYouDrop.com had a chance to sit down with the popular cult filmmaker a few weeks back and here are the results of that interview.

ShockTillYouDrop.com: When you made “Cut,” the short film that was a part of “Three Extremes,” that was about a director who made a vampire movie and then dealing with a home invader, and many thought it was auto-biographical… and now you’re making a vampire movie. Had you already been thinking of doing “Thirst” and threw that into “Cut” as a little tease?

Park Chan-Wook: That’s right and when you look at my film “Cut,” you notice the crew that are making that film within a film. If you notice the shirts they’re wearing and the caps, there’s an embroidery that tells you the title of the movie they’re making and it is actually called “Evil Live” and that is actually the English title that I was thinking of “Thirst.” It used to have the working title of “Evil Live,” so that is evidence I was planning this movie for a long time but when I got to the stage of making “Thirst,” I thought “Evil Live” is a title that gives you too much of an impression that this is a B-movie so I decided to change it. When you look at this film-in-film, “Cut,” the female vampire character she uses a silver wolf’s canine tooth to such the blood of her victims. Now this is an idea that I wanted to carry over into “Thirst.” I actually thought of using that exact same prop in her film I would later make, but during the screenwriting stage for “Thirst,” I realized there was no room to use this particular item, because it became a very different kind of movie.

Shock: I’ve read that you’re not a fan of horror movies so much. Vampire movies tend to be either European or American, and you don’t really see that many coming from Asia. Knowing you weren’t a fan of horror, why did you want to explore that sub-genre within this romantic drama?

Park: Actually, a long time ago, when I was much younger, I did watch a lot of horror films and I quite enjoyed them. It’s just that I couldn’t watch them at a big theater on a big screen, so that’s why I would go and watch these films on VHS at home on a smaller screen. But now, the times have changed that I have a home theatre where I have a bigger screen with a DVD and a much better image and a sound system, so now I can’t even watch horror films at home. When you’re looking at the vampires I deal with in this film as well as Catholicism, it’s something very foreign to Korea. It is something that has entered into Korea from the outside, and when you’re watching this particular film, it might be interesting to watch it from the point of view that the film deals with the concept of culture that is foreign to Korea coming into Korea and how this culture is accepted in Korean society. Vampires and Catholicism are being used as a metaphor for that.

I would like to expand on that. The concept of something entering from outside to the inside is not just to do with locality of Korea, and I’m not just talking about a geographical or cultural transition or influence of different nationalities or cultures from different countries. It’s in a broader sense about in general all things that are from the outside entering inside and how it is accepted or rejected.

Shock: Obviously, making a movie about vampires and Catholicism, you’re dealing with things that are foreign to Korean culture as you say, so are your movies considered very mainstream in your home country and your fans there will just accept whatever ideas you choose to explore? Here, your films are viewed differently, almost as being a cult filmmaker known more among cinephiles than anyone else. I was wondering how Koreans perceived your movies, especially one like “Thirst.”

Park: The reason there probably aren’t as many people in America who’ve seen my films probably has something to do with the film having subtitles and maybe people don’t like to watch films with subtitles, but I take it that your question is that even if I was making a film in the English language, because of the subjects they deal with, it would turn it into more of a cult film rather than a mainstream film. Well, vampire films in Korea, you can’t say that it’s a very foreign concept, because people will go see vampire films over there that are made in some other country, but they’re exposed to the idea already anyway, so you can’t say that it is something alien to them. Rather, the fact that this is the first vampire film made in Korea raises people’s interest there. Catholicism is also not a concept that’s not very foreign to Koreans, because there are a significant number of Catholics in Korea. If you actually count the Protestants in Korea, the Christian community is very large indeed, so to Koreans, dealing with Catholicism would not really be a theme that is unusual or strange to them. That’s why combining a priest and a vampire in a film actually helped people to notice the film more but having combined these two elements, how to then deal with the ideas of how to portray that in the film has been the subject of much debate and discussion in Korea. People have either loved or hated it.

Shock: One thing that’s really been amazing to watch, especially in your films since “Old Boy,” is how your female characters have becoming increasingly stronger. I think people seeing this movie might assume it’s about the priest Sang-hyun, but it’s really Tae-ju’s story and her arc as seen through his eyes. I’d like to talk about how you portray women in your movies and the fact you work with a woman screenwriter, as well as having written the recent “Crush and Blush” for another woman making her directorial debut. Can you talk about how you work with these women to create these female characters?

Park: Not only in Korea, but when you look at films from all over the world, except for a few minor exceptions, all the films tend to be quite male-oriented, and I got a little bit tired of that. In all my previous films, you can say they’re quite male-oriented as well, but having a wife and raising a daughter, I’ve come to take more interest in women and also the female perspective, what their interests are, what their values are, and also, their emotions. I’ve come to like them and this has become more increasingly so, and I’ve come to look for women who are strong and who are very individual and independent.

Shock: Obviously this is a movie you’ve wanted to do for a long time, and it’s been about three years since “I’m A Cyborg” so do you have another movie you’re hoping to jump right into and are you involved at all in any of the remakes of your earlier movies being made?

Park: When it comes to remakes, it’s not that I’m saying I don’t want to have anything to do with them so much, but it’s just that nobody has come to me to actually be involved in the process of creating them with an offer. Even if I wanted to be involved, there hasn’t been any talks about it, but when it comes to seeing these remakes being made, I want them to take the same attitude that I took with “Old Boy,” being that it was based on a Japanese manga, but I approached it in a way that I had a lot of freedom with it. There isn’t a specific detailed incident or specific piece of dialogue that I took from the manga. It was a whole different creation. Much in the same sense that when I look at these remakes of my films, I would like to see something that is completely Americanized, whether it’s “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” or “Lady Vengeance” or an Americanized “Old Boy.”

Shock: At one point, they were even talking about remaking “Joint Security Area” which deals with the border between North and South Korea, so I have no idea how they would do that.

Park: [laughs] I heard from somebody that it’s something that happens along the American and Mexican border.

Shock: And do you have something else you’re planning to direct yourself?

Park: There is something that’s in my mind at the moment but it’s early days yet, so there’s not a lot of details. I just want to add before you go that when I said there has been no offer to be involved in these remake efforts, I’m not saying that I’m bitter about it. I just think that even if it’s myself trying to make a remake of some other film, I wouldn’t necessarily ask the original creator to be involved.

Thirst opens in New York, L.A. and San Francisco on Friday, July 31st, with plans to roll out elsewhere soon.


Source: Edward Douglas