South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook gives us yet another deliciously evil female character in his latest vampire film, Thirst.
ISSUE: Fall 2009
DEPT: Plugged In
STORY: Jimmy Lee
South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook is at it again, defying convention and cliché in creating his singularly cinematic visions. After Old Boy gave the revenge thriller dizzying twists of incestuous proclivities and his romantic comedy I’m A Cyborg But That’s OK opened with the female protagonist slitting her wrists, Park has infused the vampire film with some fresh blood in his latest feature, Thirst.
Although, if he could have seen into the future 10 years ago when he came up with the idea while making his first blockbuster, Joint Security Area, things might have turned out differently. “If I had known [about the resurgence of the vampire genre], maybe I wouldn’t have made Thirst. I wouldn’t have liked to make another vampire film,” said Park through a translator a few days before Thirst began a limited U.S. release on July 31.
Park’s penchant to be original and inventive does indeed come out in Thirst, adding to the genre through the subtraction of vampire clichés. “‘What does a vampire film have to do with a crucifix?’ I first thought. And that was one of the first things I took away,” said Park. “I found I could make a story without these elements, and it prompted me to think about taking away another convention, and another one after that.”
Another break from formula is that the bloodsucker in Thirst is a man of the cloth. “Pastors or priests always play the role of someone who hunts down vampires. They never become vampires themselves,” said Park. “That was something that struck me as being quite surprising.”
When Sang-hyun, a priest with a Christ-like willingness to sacrifice his life to save others, takes part in a medical test, the blood transfusion that brings him back from the dead also turns him into the undead. The blood, as well as the laughs — there’s much black comedy coursing through Thirst’s veins — really starts to gush when he becomes entangled with Tae-ju, a childhood friend’s wife, played by former beauty pageant winner Kim Ok-vin.
As in Old Boy, there’s a scene with a sharp instrument and an open mouth that ratchets up the tension. And like Park’s Lady Vengeance, the female lead lashes out at those who’ve tormented her in the past with a bloodthirsty vengeance (pun intended).
Audrey spoke with Park, who is deliberate and urbane when doing interviews, about his female characters, who can turn out to be impulsive and violent.
Audrey Magazine: You put your female characters through so much emotional and physical turmoil in some scenes. How do you get through filming these sequences with the actresses you work with?
Park Chan-wook: You’d be surprised to find out that these beautiful women have this scary aspect. When you explain the violence of the scene to them, you might expect them to say, “Oh dear.” But it’s not like that all. They go further. They not only understand the nature of the scene, but they give up their own ideas and are enthused by it.
AM: Was that the case with Kim Ok-vin?
PCW: She said, “Wow, it was the first time I read a cool script like this.” But when the time for shooting drew closer, she started getting scared at the thought of doing this film. She plays a character whose emotions are exhausting; she has to give everything until there’s nothing left. So the process of shooting itself was difficult for her. And that’s why all the other actors, who are more experienced and have had the experience of working with me, would encourage her and compliment her performances and check how she’s feeling. They really gave her the sense that she’s being protected.
AM: So what inspires you to create these vicious female characters?
PCW: I’m not sure whether it’s because my personality is twisted or whether it’s perverted. These are the kind of women I wouldn’t want to come across in real life. At least in film, I’m attracted to crazed and evil and dangerous women.