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Following the success of Oldboy, Park Chan-wook's Thirst received a modest U.S. release. APA chats with Park Chan-wook about sex, storytelling, and a devil in a blue dress.
In Park Chan-wook's latest film Thirst, a priest, Sang-hyeon, volunteers himself for a top-secret health experiment that goes terribly awry. Newly infused with life-saving vampire blood, the man who had devoted his whole life to doing good is suddenly thirst-ing for all things perverse, all things murderous, and all things carnal. An eerily dysfunctional family invites him into their home, and the gloomy, sheltered daughter-in-law becomes his latest craving.
But this is only the beginning, as a Park Chan-wook's film refuses to be categorized by a single genre. Itching to escape the confines of her sadistic mother-in-law and whimpering husband, the young dark-eyed woman, Tae-joo, is eager to be ravaged by the mysterious visitor, despite Sang-hyeon's warnings of eternal damnation. Fingers clawing and limbs flopping on the dingy linoleum floor are juxtaposed with tender glances and romantic flights into the night -- until a misguided act of rage sets off a dangerous domino effect.
On the occasion of Thirst's US release, Park Chan-wook visits Los Angeles and chats with APA about newcomer Kim Ok-vin, the iconic blue dress, and what a lonely woman really means when she stares you in the eye and tells you she's not shy. --Ada Tseng
Interview with Park Chan-wook
July 28, 2009
Interviewed by Ada Tseng
Video by Warren Kenji Berkey
Asia Pacific Arts: Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) and Tae-joo (Kim Ok-vin) undergo large transformations in the film. What were the challenges of creating a spark between these two characters while filming?
Park Chan-wook: Months before we started to shoot the film, we would have all these get togethers. And of course Song Kang-ho already knew about this film. I told them about the story almost ten years ago, so he always knew that he'd be playing this character. But we had a newcomer Kim Ok-vin, the actress. Together, I, Song Kang-ho, Kim Ok-vin, along with the actor who plays the husband, we would travel together and go on excursions outside of Seoul. We would drink together, talk about our personal matters, and of course, we'd talk about the film as well. Sometimes there were discussions, debates, and arguments. We would drink together and all fall asleep in the same room together. During this process, what was important for the lead actress was for her to feel protected, and it was important for us to really embrace her, and not to have her feel that she was being exploited in any way. So we developed a great relationship, like brothers and sisters.
APA: I wanted to ask about the blue dress Tae-joo wears at the end of the film. Why did you want her to have that look when she's finally liberated?
PCW: One of the reasons was to have the color of the dress contrast with the color of blood. Also, against the background of the interiors of the house, where the walls which were painted a neutral white color, I wanted her to stand out as an icon. I wanted her to be a stand-out figure against the neutral background of white. I was also thinking about the energy and all these other ideas associated with the color. But of course, another inspiration was a film called Possession, which is Kim Ok-vin's favorite film as well as a film that I really like. It was an homage to Isabelle Adjani, who wears a blue dress in that film.
APA: The sex scenes in the film were really powerful. Before the first seduction, she tells him: "I'm not shy." What did you want to convey with that line?
PCW: I wanted to convey that she was a very shy person. When you look at that scene and consider the priest's age, this is clearly a man in his middle age having sex with a married woman. So it could almost come across as sex between these two very experienced people -- not very exciting. But fortunately we have a priest, who despite his age, will be experiencing sex for the first time, and also this woman, although she is married, because of her husband's impotence, she is as good as a virgin. And of course, this is her first time having sex with anybody other than her husband. So you don't get this worn-out sort of feeling, but something that is sensational and fresh, where these characters' shyness and their fear really come across. So despite the fact that this man is in his middle age and she's a married woman, you have this shyness and fear, and you almost get the feeling that these are two teenage kids having sex.
APA: The film has these big musical-like movements where it goes from comedy to drama to suspense, and I'm wondering how you interpret the film's structure and its shifts in tone?
PCW: It's quite interesting because an older reporter compared the film to an opera -- it must be generational differences. [laughs] But this film, all my films, don't boast huge scales. These don't provide great spectacles. Rather, everything is very limited and contained, and our story occurs within these confines. The more that you limit your variables, the more you end up with something that is highly concentrated. The various emotions that we can find in our lives boil over within these limitations. These emotions include fear, humor, sorrow, and many others, and they all come out simultaneously. So this is not a meal where you get to have different tastes or different plates or dishes. Instead, everything is placed in a pot and boiled for a very long time, so you get a mix of different tastes, but you can't distinguish between these tastes.
Date Posted: 8/14/2009