Thirst for laughs


POSTED: Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook offers no explanation for the current vampire craze, despite his expertise in the horror/thriller genre. His latest film, “;Thirst,”; a sexually graphic rumination on the nature of love, violence, romance, religion and guilt as reflected through a Roman Catholic priest who becomes a vampire, won the Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

“;Everlasting youth and beauty related to vampirism, and when it meets with the actor who really has those qualities ... it strikes a cord with the audience,”; Park speculated, communicating through a translator over breakfast last month at the Halekulani Hotel.

The director was in town for a brief first visit to receive the Vision in Film award from the Hawaii International Film Festival before an early screening of “;Thirst,”; which has earned raves from some national reviewers. (His only experience of Hawaii had been based on “;Hawaii 5-0”; episodes.)

There is plenty of everlasting youth and beauty and intense desire in “;Thirst,”; already a huge box office hit in Korea as it prepares for its roll-out in select theaters across America. The story follows an altruistic priest who dies while trying to help doctors find a cure for a skin disease.

After a tainted blood transfusion transforms him into a vampire, he becomes entangled with a desperate married woman. Her metamorphosis begins when the priest slits her wrist, then his own tongue and drinks her blood. According to Park, elements of necrophilia permeate the exchange, as does the ironic sensation that the vampire is sucking out death, rather than ending her life.

Despite the intense violence and sexuality along the way, Park wants the audience to laugh. Indeed, he infuses humor into some of the film's darkest moments.

“;If you laugh, you'll better understand the tragedy of their relationship,”; he said to the HIFF audience following the screening. “;I like to surprise and mix up different elements in my films. Like with 'Thirst,' for audiences who expect to see a horror film, I like to try to inject comedy in scenes when violence is being committed or during desperate emotional moments with my main characters.

“;But I know I must be careful, because if you misstep it could end up coming off as coming from a cold perspective or making a mockery of someone's pain and being too cynical.”;





Opens Friday, Rated R
        Korean language with English subtitles

        On the Net:

        www.filminfocus.com/focusfeatures/film/thirst (Note: The trailer is restricted.)

IT APPEARS HE'S walked that fine line for quite some time—with impressive results. Park's resume is filled with violent thrillers and horror films, including the “;Vengeance”; trilogy and “;Joint Security Area”; in 2000, when his name first began to circulate in the international filmmaking arena.

“;Oldboy,”; the second part of the trilogy (bookended by “;Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance”; and “;Lady Vengeance”;), solidified his reputation as a daring, intelligent filmmaker when it won the Grand Prix Award at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and subsequently attracted an international cult following.

As a writer, director and producer, Park enjoys every aspect of the filmmaking process—except one—he noted with some humor. That would be doing interviews.

Despite his apparent dislike for the studied interaction, the elegantly dressed Park remained cool in business attire, composed, unaffected and charming—complimenting his guests and the beachfront setting between talking about his film.

He said that time spent on the set brings him the most satisfaction. Extensive preparation for those moments allows him the freedom to play with his actors, eliciting bold performances from them.

Working with 22-year-old actress Kim Ok-vin, who played the female lead opposite Korean mega-star Song Kang-ho, proved to be the most challenging aspect of making the film.

“;There was an element of uncertainty there,”; Park noted, because she had not proved herself before “;Thirst.”; He selected her due to her “;unsettled, mysterious quality.”;

“;You can never tell what she is thinking; she's a paradox. She doesn't do anything girlie. She's more interested in sports and going out with the boys and having a hearty laugh, but she's also extremely sensitive.”;

The sexual choreography added another layer of complications to the professional relationships. Korean actresses are usually shy about nude scenes, Park explained. So everyone on the set “;had to take care of her and give her love and compliments so she wouldn't feel exploited.”;

In a philosophical discussion about eroticism in the film (yes, the woman is ecstatic when the priest/vampire bites her neck), Park viewed them as an outward manifestation of what was happening inside the characters.

While promoting “;Thirst,”; Park is already looking ahead to his next project, an open proposition. It could be in English or Korean, and he's open to any genre, including science fiction, film noir, western or a cerebral type of espionage flick. No matter what he chooses, however, Park's most devoted fans expect to be surprised.


Features writer Gary Chun contributed to this report.