Soompi's Interview With Park Chan-Wook

After gaining legions of fans for his cult-favorites Oldboy and Lady Vengeance, director Park Chan-wook has returned this time with a vampire movie.

Although Thirst won the Cannes Film Festival Jury prize, the subject of vampires is an uncommon one in Korean films and mixed opinions in Korea.
We asked director Park just what are some of the things he wanted to share with audiences of Thirst.
Soompi: Audiences in Korea seem to be divided in their opinions of Thirst. What are some points that you hope they can focus on when watching your new film?
Park: Despite the posters and trailers that give off a certain vibe, I want to emphasize that this film has quite a sense of humor as well. Song Kang-ho’s role, the priest, is an especially sincere one. The character is very earnest in his emotions and actions, but some find him very pathetic or laughable when looking at him objectively.
And this is the important part, because whether one can laugh while watching this movie or not is really about what kind of preconceived notions did you have in watching it in the first place.
Most of the people who say this movie was no fun are the ones that expected a very scary vampire movie, or on the other end of the spectrum, a romantic vampire movie. If you can watch this movie with a blank slate, free of those prejudices and expectations, then I think you’ll be able to respond to its code of humor and enjoy following along.
Soompi: You’ve emphasized that the vampire in your film is different from the vampires that most of us are familiar with. Could you elaborate on that point?
Park: Rather than simply a vampire, I think it’s important to remember that this is a priest that has become a blood-sucking vampire. A priest drinks wine during the communion ceremony, and that wine symbolizes the blood that Christ bled to save humanity. To be a priest means to contemplate on Christ’s sacrifice to save others, his death and blood.  That such a priest must now drink the blood of others so that he can survive, — it’s a kind of occupational burden or conflict, a conflict of interest. I think you’d agree in that sense, a priest that becomes a vampire probably has a much larger burden than the average person that becomes a vampire, am I right?
Soompi: Is that why you’ve removed some of the common clichés from your film, the vampire’s aversion of garlic or the cross and such?
Park: My approach of portraying the vampire was to remove the various  clichés, and start with the most basic characteristics that define a vampire – he must drink blood, he can’t be active during daytime, he has developed heightened senses. Everything else besides those few were thrown out. I felt this would help define more clearly the identity of the vampire and shed its mystical aspect. By making the process a biological one that starts from a viral infection developing into a disease, I wanted to be rid of that mythical, supernatural association, and hopefully show a more realistic vampire.
Soompi: There are a few things that need some explanation to have a better understanding of the movie. One of those is the use of “Trot” music…
Park: Trot music… It must’ve been your first time hearing that. But the reason I wasn’t too worried about using it in the film is because that type of music really sounds quite strange to anyone who hears it. Also, Tae-joo (Kim Ok-bin) has a line complaining about the endlessly whining and melancholy songs. It’s played through LPs (records) instead of MP3 or CDs, and I think anyone will be able to recognize that the music is rickety old, colloquial and emotional.
To take another example of music in the film, Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) plays Sebastian Bach on his flute, a cantata. It’s a choice that’s possible because he is a priest, and the song has lyrics – something along the lines of ‘now that I’ve seen the Lord with my own eyes, I can die happily.’
Soompi: Some of the actors in this movie have also appeared in many of your previous films. Was any of that intentional?
Park: It was just picking people that I work well with. I guess it’s about half of the cast this time. Song Kang-ho, Shin Ha-kyun, Oh Dal-soo.
Soompi: Especially the male actors…
Park: Yes, (laugh) you’re right. Because I like women… and with women, you always wind up liking new women… (laugh)
Soompi: If you take a look at the Korean film characters that non-Korean people are deeply interested in, they tend to have a very wide emotional range…
Park: It’s because Korean people have suffered a lot.
Soompi: In fact, I was asked how to say the concept of ‘Han’ in English…
Park: The correct answer would be that there is no translation for it.
Soompi: Then if you could explain what ‘Han’ is… Does your film have much ‘Han’ in it?
Park: I actually don’t like to use that word. For a long time, people have said that it’s the keyword that defines the Korean culture, or some distinct notion of Korean sensibilities. But I would say… how should I put it, that it’s too passive? I think it’s too loaded with a sense of victim mentality, it feels dated to me. I think we should now be able to express it simply as resentment, sadness, rage, and other such everyday emotions.
‘Han’ as some sensibility that is unique only to Koreans, as some undefinable word that’s difficult to explain… There might be some people who like to use the word that way, but not me. So although the characters in my movies may have some unique sensibility, I don’t have have any intention of making it that specific notion of ‘Han.’
Soompi: Someone else asked this out of curiosity, that because your movies are gritty and have very strong imagery, that maybe something significant influenced you when you were growing up…
Park: I didn’t have any traumatic experiences. (Laugh)
I’m the opposite, I grew up very normal. We weren’t rich, but we weren’t poor either and so we didn’t have too many big problems. In growing up, I was a boringly normal person.
So I never dreamt in my wildest dreams that I would be working in an ever-changing and challenging occupation such as a film director.  Not just becoming a director but one that was at the very bottom to scrape the floors and also at the highest top and everywhere in between, I never knew this is what I would be doing.
I think it’s because my life was so dull that my films turned out this way. Because I was so bored, my imagination turned this gritty and rough, and continues to go into that world.
I’m not the type that can show my emotions very well to others. I don’t tend to show my anger even when someone has insulted me, and I’ve never gotten into a fight. I keep those feelings inside until I go to bed and imagine, catching those that insulted me and torturing them…  (laugh)
Soompi: Reading another interview, you’ve said you want to become a photographer. What kind of pictures do you take?
Park: The pictures I take are very serene… I take a lot of landscape photos.
Soompi: Lastly, a question you’d like to ask to young film audiences, or something you’re curious about as a director.
Park: This is a question I have for all film audiences in the world…
People read Tolstoy and other older novels, but why do they only watch new movies? Of course there are folks who watch older movies as well, but as you know there’s less of those people.
The more difficulties a film has overcome, the greater chance that it’s an excellent film. Why do people invest so much time watching newer films that have a smaller chance of being good, and cast off old films? That’s what I’m curious about.
In closing…
As we first began the interview, Director Park Chan-wook calmly asked what meant. When he carefully answered each of my questions, he was rather different from the forceful imagery he shows us in his
films. How will Park Chan-wook’s vampires be discussed and remembered by audiences? I hope this interview will be of some help in understanding. Thirst opened nationwide in the U.S. on July 31. Interview by

Interview translated by Ernest Woo.

Ernest Woo is a translator, interpreter and occasional blogger from New Jersey focusing on pop culture, games and Korean films.
Twitter ID: clumproll
How does this article make you feel?


Please login to Soompi to join the conversation!

Similar Articles