Thirst: Interview with Korean Helmer Park Chan-wook

Born in 1963, Park Chan-wook is a prominent member of the Korean New Wave.  His “revenge trilogy” includes “Oldboy,” a stylish, gory work that has become a cult movie after its premiere at the Cannes Film Fest, where it won the Grand Jury Prize.  His new horror film, “Thirst,” the first Korean movie with Hollywood backing, will be released by Focus Features July 31.

Thirst as Vampire Movie

Park Chan-wook: As soon as one starts to classify a film by genre, people start to have unnecessary preconceptions. Furthermore, that kind of definition cannot embrace the whole film. For instance, if I said “Thirst” is a “vampire romance,” most people will think of “Interview With the Vampire,” or “Bram Stoker's Dracula,” even though the romanticism found in those films has nothing at all to do with “Thirst.”  No one will be able to conceive of the religious issues that are embedded in “Thirst.” But if I really had to come up with an answer, I cannot think of any other than “vampire romance.” 

Three Extremes segment and I'm a Cyborg but That's OK

Park: “I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK” was like a sweet dessert served at the end of a full course meal. I feel that the film marks the end of a chapter in my career. Would that mean that “Thirst” is the first film in a new chapter? I'm not sure yet. I think perhaps “Thirst” is a film that is like getting the bill after you've finished the dessert.

Classic Horror Vs. New Elements

Park: Rather than bringing new elements, there are more elements that I took out: elongated canine teeth, gorgeous male vampires with clear-cut features, bats, the old castle with a hunchback servant, mirrors, fear of garlic and the cross, the stake through the heart, all of these elements are out.

Hitchcock, Polanski and Kurt Vonnegut as Influences

Park: Vonnegut is my favorite contemporary writer, but it does not seem that he has directly influenced my films. Actually, those names have come up during interviews with the Western media.  But when I mention Korean names, they tend not to put them in print.  Director Kim Ki-young has been a great influence to me. “Thirst” is a particularly good example of that. Anyone who has seen his film “The Housemaid,” will be able to tell straight away.

Fears and Anxieties

Park:  When I was poor, I watched a lot of horror films on a old and small TV. They were on these VHS tapes that had been taped over a number of times and the picture quality was terrible. At the time I thought I was a horror film fan. But then came the age of DVDs, and my TV was replaced with a big new one. Only then did I realize that I scare easily. Ever since, I have not been able to watch horror films. Vampires are a metaphor for all kinds of exploiters. I certainly do believe in the existence of exploiters.

Confined Spaces


Park: The movie is not in a single room, but a single house.  In “Thirst,” incarceration is psychological rather than physical.  I like the motif of incarceration. That's because these places are miniaturized universes. These are the spaces where existential circumstances that people face are more clearly revealed. Also, it saves on the budget to shoot on sets like these.

Korean Films in Cannes Fest

Park: Including the Classics and the Short Film sections, there are total of 10 Korean films that made the official and unofficial selection at Cannes this year.  The number of Korean films going to Cannes is the biggest in the history of Korean cinema. The most notable trend in Korean cinema is the rise of independent films, which also can be noticed in Cannes selection. We hope that this year's Cannes will become the festival from which we see a reversal of the current mood in the Korean film industry.

U.S. Financial Backing

Park: The domestic audience who for the first time saw a Korean film with a Universal logo found it very interesting. Some thought it awkward, and some were delighted to see it.  I must say I'm very honored to have “Thirst” internationally distributed by the high-end boutique Focus Features. Other than that, there was no influence on my film.

Going Hollywood

Park: The issue of Universal's investing in “Thirst” doesn't seem to have too much to do with the issue of my going to work in Hollywood. The issue of whether I make a Hollywood film or not, is only related to the question of whether I can find a good enough script. Unless I have in my hand a script that is suitable for an English-language film, I won't be working on a Hollywood film. But if a script like that came my way right now, I would be prepared to go straight from Cannes to L.A. without stopping home in Seoul.




Thirst” (2009)

“I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK” (2006)

“Lady Vengeance” (2005)

“Cut” (segment of 2004 “Three Extremes”)

“Oldboy” (2003)

“Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” (2002)

“Joint Security Area” (2000)