In Thirst, South Korean director Park Chan-Wook inadvertently capitalized on the recent popularity of vampire-themed tales by chronicling the struggles of a devout priest who succumbs to a virus that demands daily (well, nightly) consumption of blood.
Interestingly, the filmmaker was generally uninterested in the mythology that so many films before his have successfully mined. "I only sought to leave the core elements that you need to consider this character a vampire," Chan-Wook revealed via translator during an exclusive interview with SCI FI Wire last week in Los Angeles. "If it weren't for these essential elements, he wouldn't be a vampire. So that's all I wanted to leave, and aside from that I got rid of everything else."
Park is well known to international audiences for his Vengeance trilogy of movies, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance and Oldboy, the latter of which Quentin Tarantino awarded the Jury Prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.
But with Thirst, Park insists that he wasn't trying to seize an opportunity to make a commercial film, adding that if he was, he would probably have missed his window. "If I had known about this trend and made my vampire film, Thirst would only have been released in a couple of years' time, because of the speed of me making my films," he observed. "I didn't at all know about this renaissance of vampire films, and the story for Thirst is something I thought of at the time of making J.S.A. [in 2000]. But I'm not sure if somebody observed a trend or a boom and wanted to make a film to ride on that, perhaps once their film was released, the trend would [already] be over."
The director said that his work on the Vengeance trilogy inspired him to go in a different direction. "In my previous films, I dealt with emotions like rage and trying to right a wrong that is done by somebody," he said. "Rather than dealing with this emotion of being against others, I thought I needed to do a film which was controlled by a temptation of the self. This is a film that has to do with a more realistic need, rather than my Vengeance trilogy, which has to do with vengeance. This film deals more with the very real need for blood. Blood in this film is something that the vampire needs to survive; it's a more practical need, so it's not an issue of emotion."
"It's the issue of survival," Park added. "So the fact that a man who has faith requires this blood to survive is the cause of all of these problems and issues in the film, but nevertheless, this is a film that deals with a practical need."
The central character's struggle to come to terms with this physical need constitutes a thematic link with his earlier movies. "In my films, be it a tale of vengeance or this latest film, all of the characters do something very bad, and then in order to get out of this sense of guilt, they struggle for redemption," he said. "It's a common element found in all of my characters, and this is where Sang-Hyun's tragedy lies. He's trying to reconcile his moral values or his faith with this newfound identity as a vampire. Or, rather, he is troubled by the fact that these notions cannot be reconciled, and his attempt to reconcile these notions is where his struggle comes from."
The director prefers that Thirst isn't lumped in with the deluge of Asian horror films that have recently inundated the American market. "Tartan is a U.K. company that released my films under the categorization 'Asian Extreme,' so perhaps that led to the trend at that time," he said. "It's true that my films came under this category of Asian Extreme, [but] I would actually prefer to have my films differentiated from these Asian horror films and considered as independent from this trend."