Thirst, directed by Korea’s own Chan-wook Park, is an incredibly dark and beautiful film about a priest (The Host’s Kang-ho Song) who gets a transfusion of blood that turns him into a vampire. The priest wrestles with his new found identity and begins to realize that, not only does he have a hunger for blood, but desires that have long been removed from his everyday life. He quickly falls in love with a childhood friend’s wife and crosses one boundary after another. He searches to find who he is now and where he belongs in the world, a world where it appears he is the only vampire.
Relaxing in a lush cabana surrounded by scantily clad woman is not where one would expect to find the director of the Thirst and the Vengeance Trilogy. Nevertheless, Chan-wook Park sits lounging ever so comfortably on a warm California day taking in the sites and enjoying the reception his most personal new film Thirst is receiving. With a slight trepidation, I walk over to the man who looks shocking like his own character from Oldboy, Dae-su Oh. A smile falls upon his face that quickly puts me at ease. A hand comes out, not a hammer, and I realize the great honor that has just been bestowed upon me. I am meeting one of cinema’s great auteurs.
Mania: With Thirst, yet another vampire film, many people are already making comparisons to other films TV shows and novels in the genre. What is your favorite vampire story?
Chan-wook Park: <translated> Until yesterday, I thought it was Martin (1977), but it occurred to me I had forgotten about my other favorite film which is the remake of Nosferatu (1979) by [Werner] Herzog. Klaus Kinski was brilliant in that film.
M: Your Vengeance Trilogy has a cult following throughout the world. Who coined the phrase "The Vengeance Trilogy" and have you accepted those films being labeled this way?
CP: The Vengeance Trilogy is something that I am responsible for, so I can have no qualms about it. It happened during a press conference during Oldboy (2003). Reporters were asking me why I was making a series of films about revenge. On the spot, I said I was going to make a trilogy out of it. You might think that was cunning at the time, but Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) was a failure at the box office. Not many people knew about it. So when I said I was going to make a vengeance trilogy, I knew people would see Oldboy and the next, but wonder what the film was before it. This would make them seek out the first film in the trilogy. This was a success (laughs). It [Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance] actually started making a profit in June .
M: If you had to pick just one of your films, which one best represents you?
CP: I would have to say Thirst because of my family background being brought up in Catholic family. This is a film that really delves into this theme of a sense of guilt and redemption. This is the only film in which there is a character which is a reflection of myself.
M: All vampire films have a double meaning behind them. What is it that you want the audience to understand in watching Thirst?
CP: In this film, becoming a vampire is not by choice. You don’t know the origin of the vampire blood that gets transfused into the character [Priest Sang-hyeon (played by Kang-ho Song)]. Nevertheless, he’s forced into this situation where he cannot but commit sins in order to merely survive. He is then forced into a position where the very meaning of survival equates to committing sins. Vampirism is a device used to put the character into a situation where he has to do something terrible. This is a reflection of our own lives. We don’t know where we come from. We don’t know why we come to have this identity. We don’t know the origin of our existence. We are also preconditioned to live a life which is not necessarily squeaky clean. Invariably we will do certain bad things in one stage or another. This film in its entirety is metaphor.
M: Do you ever plan to make a film with American actors in the United States?
CP: Yes. At the moment I am reading a lot of scripts, but I am not saying that the next country I make a film in is the U.S. It can be in Japan or France or anywhere else in the world as long as I am given a good script to direct. Wherever I make my next film, I don’t have any interest in staying there. I will still be based in Korea.
M: I understand that you went to the San Diego Comic Con for the first time showcasing Thirst. Did you have a chance to walk the floor at all?
CP: I did have a walk around the convention floor. I was amazed even though I had heard a lot about it. Even then, it was beyond imagination. I had to pick up a Fullmetal Alchemist figure for my daughter that wasn’t available yet.
M: I read in an interview that your daughter is a huge fan of Twilight. Did you use any of your influence at Comic Con to get autographs from the Twilight cast?
CP: (laughs) Do I have that kind of influence?
M: (laughs) Well, I would hope so. Since you did go to Comic Con this year for the first time and had a full experience with American nerd culture, what is your nerd confession?
At this point Chan-wook Park looks at me and then and then back at his interpreter a little confused.
M: Your nerd confession could be anything from, "I have never seen Dracula" to "I’ve never seen Star Wars".
CP: (laughs) Oh, I’ve never seen Twilight.
M: That doesn’t count because I’ve never seen Twilight either.
CP: (laughs) I only ever saw the Fellowship of the Ring. I never saw the rest (laughs).
Chan-wook Park’s Thirst is currently screening in select cities across the United States. For more information, see the official Thirst section on the Film in Focus site. See the trailer below.
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