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Turns out in Park Chan-wook’s universe, revenge may be sweet, but blood is just plain tasty. In THIRST, a priest’s benevolent attempt to aid medical researchers turns around to bite him in the… well, let’s say neck, when a blood transfusion transforms him into a profoundly conflicted vampire. Adding to Sang-hyun’s (Song Kang-ho) confusion: his attraction to Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin), wife of a childhood friend and a woman so desperate to escape her cramped, dead-end life that an emotional appeal to a newly undead doesn’t seem a particularly unsavory option.
As with Park’s previous work, THIRST mashes up explicit gore, creative fantasy, social satire, and plain ol’ human weakness to come up with a unique, occasionally funny take on a beloved horror standard. We had a chance to speak to Park during his visit to New York: WHAT’S THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF A VAMPIRE?
Well, when you’re looking at the special nature of a vampire, I set out actually to take out anything that’s fantastical about a vampire. I didn’t want there to be any kind of mystical elements, so in my film, vampirism is treated almost as a disease, almost as if it is something that can be scientifically explained. The film isn’t interested in trying to [provide that explanation], but if someone in the film’s world was interested in trying to come up with a scientific explanation of the vampire phenomenon, he would be able to.
The way I set this up is that I treated vampirism as a kind of transferable disease — you can get it through infection or through germs. Like a virus can enter your body, in the same way a vampire’s blood enters your body to turn you into a vampire. What I have done is to take the vampire and turn him into the most realistic [kind of creature], take out any kind of mystical or fantastical elements out of it. AND YET, FOR TAKING THE MYSTICAL ELEMENTS OUT OF IT, YOUR PROTAGONIST IS A SPIRITUAL MAN, A PRIEST.
That’s exactly the starting point of the story, and what makes this film interesting. I’ve taken the mystical elements out of vampirism, but then we have this spiritual man to whom these terrible things happen. So therein lies the question of this person, who is a man of faith, who follows the will of God. But then, that would mean that him becoming a vampire would also be God’s will. What meaning could there be within that will? Why, out of all people, would he be the one to be inflicted with vampirism?
Now I could ask the same question by choosing to deal with a communicable disease more commonly found in real life. But to go about it that way would just be real life. [You can] ask the question, “Why am I the one to get this disease?” but we’ve moved it to a different level. In this film, when we’re asking why is it this particular priest who’s inflicted with [vampirism] — and whose blood is it, anyway? — we’re starting to move on to a different level, starting to ask different questions. HOW IS THE VAMPIRISM REFLECTED IN THE LOVE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SANG-HYUN AND TAE-JU?
In this film, the priest turns into a vampire, and because he turns into a vampire, he loses the power to control his desires. The way he falls in love with this woman, the trigger is intentionally left obscure. Now, when you watch the film, you realize that once he’s transfused his blood, there’s initially a dormant stage, where the characteristics of a vampire haven’t revealed themselves yet. But is it the dormant stage, before he’s fully a vampire, when the woman enters his life and all the sexual desires he’s repressed for so long can no longer be controlled? Is this the reason he falls in love with her? Or is it the other way around, is it because he’s met this woman and fallen in love, is this the trigger for him turning into a vampire? This is intentionally left obscure in the film.
Also obscure is the woman’s stance towards the man. Out of the intention to kill her husband and take control of the household, she brings in this outside person and uses him to take care of her husband. If you look at it from that perspective, the metaphor for vampire is actually the woman, not the man. But here again, it’s kind of obscure whether she’s only using him to achieve a means, achieve her ends, or is she actually, really in love with him. Both interpretations are possible. BECAUSE TAE-JU IS ESSENTIALLY A FEMME FATALE, DO YOU VIEW Thirst MORE AS A NOIR FILM THAN A HORROR FILM?
Yes, there is that element in there, especially if you look at the film from Tae-Ju’s perspective. The interesting thing about the noir genre is that it leaves you wondering if the woman only ever meant to use the man or whether she actually was in love with him. If she is an exemplary femme fatale, she would never actually give you the answer. THE VAMPIRE ALWAYS RINGS TWICE?
THIRST – the bloody vampire-drama-tragedy from Korean writer-director Park Chan-wook – has been scheduled for a July 31 release in the U.S., courtesy of Universal Studios’s boutique label, Focus Features. Fans of Park’s earlier work (OLD BOY, SYMPATHEY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, LADY VENGEANCE, THREE EXTREMES) will see much that is familiar, but this time the meticulous cinematic techique and bloody violence are put in the service of a story about a priest who becomes a vampire after receiving a blood transfusion during an experiment medical treatment that goes wrong. The new bloodlust leads to a more familiar form of lust, and the priest launches into an affair with the beautiful young wife of an old friend, leading to a story that feels more like Nagisa Oshima’s masterful kaidan EMPIRE OF PASSION than a traditional vampire tale – although, being a Park Chan-wood film, the emotional turbulence is visualized in a series of brutally violent sequences. The “red band” trailer gives a good idea of the mayhem that ensues…
Variety reports that IFC Films has picked up U.S. distribution rights for ANTICHRIST, Lars Von Triers’ symbolic shocker, which recently screened at Cannes. From advance descriptions, the film sounds as if it will easily fall into NC-17 territory, so we can only hope that IFC puts it out uncut (and probably unrated, as they most likely will want to avoid the NC-17 label).
Also attracting interest after appearing at Cannes is Park Chan-wook’s new vampire film THIRST. Unfortunately, in this case, Hollywood seems more interested in securing remake rights than in distributing the original film. Previous Park films are already scheduled for being Americanized (OLD BOY, LADY VENGEANCE and SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE). Park – who is currently producing a new film from director Bong Joon-ho (whose THE HOST is scheduled to be remade by Gore Verbinski) – will not be involved with the remakes. He told Variety: “I want them to treat my films as if they were books and I was an 18th century writer who has long been dead.”
Hollywood Reporter film critic Kirk Honeycutt thinks the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival is running red with blood, thanks to a series of violent flicks unspooling in competition, including Park Chan-wook’s vampire film THIRST and Lars Von Trier’s art house horror film ANTICHRIST.
In such cases as a razor-blade murder in Jacques Audiard’s finely wrought French prison drama “A Prophet” and the bullet-ridden bodies in Johnnie To’s enjoyable Hong Kong actioner “Vengeance,” the violence falls well within the expected parameters of genre filmmaking. Even the blood-soaked ghoulishness of Park Chan-wook’s Korean vampire movie “Thirst” is more campy than disturbing.
[…] Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist” savors genital mutilation by rusty scissors, a drill grinding through a leg, an ejaculation of blood and strangulation.
Individually, each violent film save one has it merits. For all the graphic gore in its final act — and disturbing imagery and mental malpractice leading up to it — von Trier’s film is brimming with ideas and literary references. This is vigorous, fearless filmmaking — it just doesn’t work. The writer-director never pulls all his symbols and conceits into a coherent whole. It is, at once, his most ambitious and least successful film.
Park’s “Thirst” provoked mixed reactions, but the view from here is that camp overwhelmed whatever serious themes he hoped to develop concerning the eroticism of violence. And its lengthy running time certainly drained whatever enthusiasm one has for vampires.