Park Chan-Wook: interview

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Park Chan-Wook’s films ‘JSA’ and ‘Oldboy’ brought Korean cinema to an international audience. His new film, ‘Thirst’ is a vampire story steeped in blood, sex and black humour, which manages to explore complex moral issues.

Thirst’ is a vampire story. Do you worry that the market is saturated with vampires?
‘When I decided to go forward with this, around two years ago, there weren’t so many vampire stories – “Twilight” hadn’t been published in Korea. In fact, when I first mentioned that I wanted to make a vampire film, people said that it seemed old fashioned.’

Which vampire stories interested you?
‘I was particularly inspired by a film by George A Romero called “Martin”. The central character was uncertain about his identity, about whether or not he was a vampire. A modern-day vampire dealing with everyday life.’

So was it an easy decision to leave out much of the traditional vampire paraphernalia, like garlic and crosses?
‘It was a very natural choice because the main character starts out as a priest, so his vocation forces him to wear a crucifix. And Korean people always eat garlic, so that couldn’t work! I just decided to get rid of all the clichés.’

What made you decide the central character should be a priest?
‘I was brought up a Catholic, so I was very familiar with the life of a Catholic priest. In the film I wanted to talk about moral downfall, so I asked myself what kind of profession is the most noble, and requires the most sacrifice? I wanted to maximise the character’s downfall after he becomes a vampire.’

Were you interested in the idea of blood as a Catholic rite, but also as food for vampires?
‘As a priest you have to drink wine as a symbol, as the blood of Christ. The blood is symbolic for the redemption of humanity, but what if a character has to drink blood just to stay alive? It’s a source of great pain for the character. My prop department asked me what kind of blood I wanted, because there are so many different shades of blood to use in a film. Rather than realistic blood, I used blood that was the colour of my favourite wine, Burgundy.’

Traditionally a priest denies himself everything, the vampire denies himself nothing. Was that a conflict you wanted to explore?
‘A priest encounters temptation every day, and some of that desire is very natural. After the character becomes a vampire, that conflict is heightened because he has new basic instincts. He has a desire to suck blood, and also a very strong sensual desire. That desire is the trigger that speeds his transformation into a vampire.’

It’s a film about morality, but how did your own personal morality influence the writing?
‘It’s about people who face a moral dilemma. If there was one choice that would make everything better it would be easy, but in this film whether you go in this direction or another, it’s still bad. So you have to pick the lesser of two evils, knowing that it could lead to something bad, and willing to take responsibility for the choice you made. People who really try to be conscious of what they have done, who take responsibility, to me these kinds of people are heroes.’

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Author: Tom Huddleston



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