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SDCC ’09: Park Chan-wook Talks Vampire Film ‘Thirst’!

With all of the clips and interviews we saw at the San Diego Comic Con last week, the highlight of my trip was getting to chat one-on-one with Park Chan-wook, the legendary Korean director behind Oldboy, JSA, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Sympathy for Lady Vengance and now the forthcoming vampire film Thirst, which begins its theatrical run this Friday from Focus Features. Beyond the break you can read our chat, but beware of some plot spoilers. Don’t miss this one in theaters!
*SPOILER WARNING*

After premiering THIRST at the Cannes Film Market and in Korea, Park Chan-wook talks a bit about how the film was received here in the States, especially the night before at the San Diego Comic Con.

I don’t feel that it’s much different fundamentally; in San Diego I feel that it (the screening) went well. In Korea and in Cannes, people took the movie very seriously, they were wondering if they should laugh or not. It’s not something that I had first hand experience [seeing], but someone had told me that in America that they responded really well to the humor found in the movie and would laugh out loud and really enjoy the movie,” he continues, “while in Korea and in Cannes, during these screenings, people would be wondering whether to laugh. Afterwards, would come up and say `It had some comedic moments and was funny,’ but during the screenings they probably didn’t laugh out loud as much as I would have liked.

Rather than all of these kids coming up and saying how inspirational I am, the greatest gift the audience can give is to go see THIRST and laugh out loud as much as they like.

Those familiar with Chan-wook’s work know that his films are filled with beautiful visuals. THIRST on the other hand is a very grim experience. Chan-wook recounts with B-D why he made LADY VENGEANCE so colorful, and why THIRST is so dark.

LADY VENGEANCE was a film about a very foolish woman – it stars one of the most beautiful actresses in Korea at the moment, but she’s not [in the film] – the character is not so smart, she’s very childish in her thinking and a simplistic, pathetic character,” Chan-wook explains. “When trying to achieve redemption, the things that she does is not very wise, but despite her actions and intentions, all of the foolishness, I thought was beautiful in nature, so I wanted to show it in the background.

He transitions into talking about THIRST and how it’s a very confined and uncomfortable movie that helps tell the story of their moral downfall. “During this film, it’s the story about the process of moral downfall for the central characters. I have put them in this space, there it is very closed up and confined. In order to show how they live and how their downfall takes place, he needed to put them in this confined space so I could better follow the changed they go through. In doing this of course you need to be careful and follow what they do very carefully as well. To do that is through visuals and sounds bring out some of these details.

He continues, “One of the most important limits I was careful to express – you know how the husband dies and the presence sort of enters into his house? – this was expressed by humidity seeping into the house. He was trying to control the amount of humidity and increase it gradually, until up until the end where the house itself seems as if it was dipped into water and then taken out.

While his films are beautiful, one of the best ways to identify a Park Chan-wook picture is by the depth of character development. He talks a bit about how the female lead character isn’t evil, just a contrast factor for the male lead. One will enjoy vampirism, while the other tries to reject it.

I never thought of her as a character representing evil or the Devil. Of course, a different perspective could exist, but I think to a certain degree that she is a femme fetal and I don’t want to see her as pure evil or representational of evil,” he explains. “This is because the situation she is placed under, the things she has been through in her life, she has been through a lot of suffering, it is something I sympathize with, [something] I have sympathy for.

But after she becomes a vampire it looks as though she is enjoying this new found identity as a vampire and relishes in it, but even that you can look at it as a sense of liberation because she has been suppressed her whole life and finally she is released. This doesn’t necessarily mean that she represents evil by doing things that are essential for vampires. The fact that she enjoys that she became a vampire is to provide a contrast between the male and female character,” explaining that the difference is how they react to their new so-called gift. “The difference between these two characters is how they accept and reject or try to relate the idea of vampires or their new found identity. This male character, the priest, he tries to hold on to his faith and tries to reconcile these two ideas, which are very mutually exclusive, vampires and Catholicism. He goes through all of these useless efforts to reconcile the two and may even appear pathetic in doing so. Where the female character, she accepts this new found identity and lets go of her old identity and is completely reversed. That’s the contrast. She is just being true to her new foundation.

He adds that the priest is not losing faith, he’s just trying to reconcile the two beliefs to no avail. “He is not a character who loses his faith. That’s his problem that he doesn’t lose his faith and tries to hold on to it and that’s why even at the end of the film his line of dialogue is, `See you again in hell.’ This means he still believe in life after death and his sins will be punished in the afterlife.

The ending is where he takes responsibility for this monster he created, who has become a vampire and relishes in the vampire life,” adding that the ending is a very clean and satisfying one. “Also, he puts an end to his efforts to reconcile the two opposite ideas of vampirism and Catholicism. Looking at it this way you might say it’s a very clean ending and very satisfactory.

It’s a pretty huge deal for a director of Chan-wook’s caliber to make a horror film, when asked about the possibilities of a return, he explained never say never.

No plans now, but I don’t think the horror elements in my films will easily go away. I don’t consider my films to be completely genre characterizations. In other words, it has elements of a number of different genres and horror is an element that is also a part of my filmmaking. Even if not that, we cant tell what the future holds, who knows, I might go out and do a completely horror film at some stage?

THRIST begins a theatrical run in NY and LA this Friday with expanding dates the week after.