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?