Appropriately enough, Director Park cast a sombre red shadow on the screen as he walked onto the stage to answer questions following the London premiere of Thirst. The film delivered all the blood you have come to expect from a Park Chan-wook movie, this time with some justification, given the vampire theme. But as always with a Park film, there were plenty of twists and plenty of food for thought.
Park was born into a Catholic family. The local padre divined a holy future for him: ordination and eventually a bishopric. But the young Park did not like the idea of all the temptations and desires that have to be overcome in that career, and his future course was set on another path. Nevertheless, his early churchgoing had given him one of the ideas for Thirst. What if the eucharistic wine really was in fact blood? What if you needed to drink it not for spiritual redemption but actually to keep you physically alive?
Such was some of the serious backdrop to the Cannes Jury Prize-winning film. But before the screening, Director Park came into the theatre to invite us to enjoy ourselves. “UK audiences appreciate the humour in my films”, he told us. “Feel free to laugh as often as you like”.
“It was a rollicking roller-coaster of laughs from start to finish” said the moderator afterwards. Well, there were some laughs. “Say 20 Hail Marys and take a shower. Forget the bastard who dumped you,” says a priest to a nun in the confessional, maybe looking to catch her on the rebound. We were invited to imagine exactly what the nun had confessed to. “You look after my spiritual health, I’ll do the rest,” rejoins the nun, if I recall correctly.
But I was wincing more than I was laughing. And often wincing and laughing in quick succession. “Just because I dumped you, there’s no need to drop me like that”, complains Tae-ju, after a particularly bone-crunching moment. It would be interesting to know whether there is a similar pun in the original Korean. In fact, one of the questions asked afterwards was whether sometimes Park finds his dialogue lost in translation. Park admitted that while some things were lost, sometimes there were actually gains in translation. 1
In the Q&A, Park invited us to consider how Song Kang-ho’s central character, the priest, wanted it all: he wanted to remain a priest even after becoming a vampire and gaining access to the rich new world of experiences and temptations that involved. His role ministering to the sick in a hospital offers entertaining opportunities to feed his thirst, but he is careful not to break the sixth commandment in order to get what he needs. Over time, though, the different temptations get the better of him, and (confessed the Director), there’s a little bit of Park Chan-wook in the central character’s struggles to make the difficult moral choices. We are nevertheless invited to compare and contrast the “good” vampire with the unrestrained pleasure derived by Tae-ju in getting her own dinner.
Films and influences? Park’s germ of an idea of a vampire priest was helped on its way to fruition by a reading of Zola’s Therese Raquin. Film-wise, Park admitted to not being particularly well-versed in all the latest western vampire films, but agreed with a member of the audience that Twilight was impressive. One unexpected reference: the blue dress worn by Kim Ok-bin at the end of the film, which I thought was a self-reference to the iconic image of Lee Young-ae looking like the Virgin Mary in some of the Lady Vengeance publicity material, is in fact an homage to Isabelle Adjani, the central character in Andrej Zulawski’s Possession.
It was a shame the Q&A was limited to not much more than 20 minutes. Over recent years, as UK audiences have become better acquainted with Korean film, the questions from the audience have become increasingly well-informed, and there wasn’t a dud one asked on Monday, with plenty of questions left unasked. At £15, it was a steep price tag for a film with Q&A, but it was a sell-out.
For lovers of the Vengeance trilogy who wondered what Cyborg was all about, perhaps Thirst marks a return to form. It certainly reminds us that Director Park can shock and entertain at the same time.
Saharial has now supplemented the above sketchy impression of the evening with a much more useful, detailed write-up of the Q&A. And huge thanks are due to her for getting me a ticket when I was far too slow off the mark at the box office. One day, the PR folks will shower LKL with tickets and plenty of advance notice for all such premieres. Not so this time: other, presumably more mainstream, media outlets must have got the freebies. Instead, the agents emailed LKL on the day of the screening to offer a couple of tickets as prizes if I cared to create a competition at the last minute (of course, I always have plenty of pre-drafted competitions up my sleeve ready and waiting to go at a moment’s notice); and then they promptly gave the tickets away to someone else. Thanks, guys.
- One of the phrases discussed was the end of Oldboy, where the daughter says “saranghaeyo, ajosshi”. Park explained that the original Korean is humorous, because the girl delays slightly on the “a” of “ajosshi”. A Korean audience is expecting her to say “saranghaeyo, appa”.