Oldboy director Park Chan-Wook on vampires, vengeance and his new film Thirst, which hits Blu-ray and DVD in the UK today.
IGN: Thirst was apparently a long time in the making. So what kept you?
Park Chan-wook: I was busy filming other films! I came up with this story, about a priest who became a vampire. Somehow he would fall in love with a woman, after she realises he’s a vampire he ends up taking her life, but turns her into a vampire. But then it had some blanks, so I wanted a way that came more naturally, rather than forcing it. I also sensed that this film would be very important film in my filmography, so that’s another reason. In Asian philosophy we could say that I wanted it to become more my destiny, if that makes sense.
IGN: To call the film a ‘vampire romance’ could easily make it sound like Twilight, so how do you describe it?
PCW: ‘Vampire romance without romanticism’. [smiles] You need to remain very cold and approach it in a very realistic way, and that’s what sets it apart from other vampire films. And one day I came across a book called ‘Therese Raqui’n, and the details of that story started to fill in the gaps left in my vampire story.
IGN: Twilight, True Blood, Daybreakers, The Vampire Diaries, Guillermo Del Toro’s novel ‘The Strain’ – vampires are everywhere right now, so what was the appeal for you? Are they the ultimate metaphor – they can stand for greed, disease, sexuality…
PCW: I didn’t really think of it that way, as a symbol for something else. It’s more about the priest encountering his moral downfall by turning into a vampire, that’s more what interested me. But yes, vampires can definitely be used to suit all purposes!
IGN: What about your own favourite vampire films?
PCW: Nosferatu by Werner Herzog; Martin by George A. Romero; and The Addiction by Abel Ferrara.
IGN: Your ‘revenge trilogy’ – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance – made your name internationally. Looking back, what’s your view on the desire to ‘take revenge’?
PCW: When someone goes through a great sense of loss and important things are taken away from him, this person is reborn as a madman. But once you’ve performed the act of vengeance, you realize it can bring no joy or reward and in this moment, you die again, internally. I think that’s life in a caricature form.
IGN: In your films humour and dark things often mix? How deliberate is that or do you see it as all part of the world we live in?
PCW: I’m very conscious about those scenes. What I’m aiming for is to make it sad and funny, or scary and funny, at the same time. I put great effort into trying to combine them as one thing. And in this case, it’s important that it’s sadder or scarier because it’s funny.
IGN: Thirst is very raunchy in parts and in Korean cinema, male nudity is never seen. What was the response back home and how did you decide what to show?
PCW: It’s a honour that you would ask me that – it’s the first time ever a Western journalist has asked me! It was a huge controversy in South Korea. There are usually press conferences after screenings in South Korea, but this time all the journalists at the screening started sending messages online during the screening that there was a scene of Song Kang-Ho’s nudity, so when I actually started the press conference, every question was only focused on that one issue!
IGN: So sex is far more controversial than violence in South Korea?
PCW: It’s not that, really, but probably because Song Kang-Ho is such a big star, so people more reacted to that. It’s more about the attitude towards the director – they say ‘was it necessary to show this scene?’ ‘Were you deliberately trying to appeal to the Cannes Film Festival more?’
IGN: You’re in the rare position of being both critically and commercially successful. As a former film critic, why do you think you have this enviable position?
PCW: I want to point out that my first two films weren’t successful with either the audiences or the critics! So after that I tried to do exactly the opposite of what I did in those first two films, and it’s led to this outcome.
IGN: Since you’ve been making films it seems that Korean cinema has become much more popular around the world? Why do you think that is?
PCW: Previously in the Korean film industry there was a trend to focus only on realism in a very limited way and the films were always pigeonholed. But in my generation we got tired of these limitations, so we thought about how we could explore film in a more expressive, cinematic way. We also achieved democracy in Korean society and that kind of confidence may reflect how we express films.
Thirst is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now.
The published article can be read on IGN – ‘Thirst Interview’