“Oldboy,” “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance,” “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” — these three films constitute director Park Chan-wook’s "Vengeance Trilogy," a triumvirate that marked the arrival of South Korea on cinema’s world stage. “Oldboy,” a surrealist film noir about a former captive out for revenge, shocked audiences at 2003’s Cannes Film Festival, earning Park a Grand Jury Prize. His latest, “Thirst,” a character-driven vampire movie, took a special jury prize at this year’s fest.
Steven Spielberg will produce and maybe direct a remake of “Old Boy,” with “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” and “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” also being getting the Hollywood treatment. Park talks about the failure of prayer and the lure of Hollywood.
What is Spielberg’s involvement in “Oldboy”?
As far as I understand, it started out with him being in line to direct the film himself. Perhaps he may end up only producing it. I wonder if he knows himself. But I would be honored if he would direct the movie himself.
The studios seem to enjoy taking great films from Europe and Asia and making terrible American versions. Are you optimistic?
Either way, it’s all good. If a good film comes out at the end of the process, it means that my children will have all these great siblings. But if they come out to be poor versions of the originals, I can say, “Well, look, the original was better after all.”
I mostly would like the directors of these three projects to come up with something very different. The more different they are, the more I’ll be able to enjoy them. Of course, if they ask my opinion on the script or whatever, I’d be more than happy to give my views.
Would you consider coming to Hollywood?
I’m wondering, what is the reason for all these international filmmakers coming to Hollywood — even though they know that the system works in certain ways and previously many people have tried the same thing and ended up making bad movies. Is it money? Is it fame? And if it is, are those reasons attractive enough or risk your reputation or risk your integrity?
I think it’s neither of these. I think it’s more because Hollywood has always been the center of filmmaking in the world and maybe these filmmakers want to experience what it is like to make a film there so that after they retire, in their old age they don’t have regrets. If it results in a good film, it’s brilliant. If not, they can shrug it off and go back to where they came from.
“Thirst” focuses on a priest who, during a blood transfusion, becomes a vampire. Is it meant to be a statement about the Catholic Church?
I wanted to deal with people who have faith, people who want to do good deeds by sacrificing themselves and dedicating their lives for the good of mankind. On the other hand, I also wanted to deal with the darkness associated with these people slowly coming to doubt their faith. Now, this is not a doubt about the existence of God but more doubting the effects of their prayer.
Vampires are so hot. Why vampires?
First it was religious films that influenced me, and then the idea of a very humorless, dark and heavy horror movie. At the time, the working title was “Evil Life." In order to deal with the great moral downfall that the priest goes through, I wanted to provide a dramatic trial — this transition as a very noble person down to the bottom end of the scale in terms of morality, an illicit affair with his friend’s wife. I needed a device, and that’s when I turned to vampirism. I’d been thinking about a vampire story for five or six years.
Are you pushing for a greater acceptance of abstraction in cinema?
Exactly. When you look at so-called commercial feature films, they are very stagnant in the expression of art. In fact, you can almost say they’re going through a regression, compared to films made from the end of ‘60s going through the mid-‘70s.
So I’m using my creations and my box-office record and my fame in an effort to expand the territory covered by commercial films. I’m doing this one small increment at a time. Nevertheless, I still wish to move forward and try to increase the territory.
But I have no ambition to be seen as a leader of such movements. It’s something very personal to me. It’s just something I want to do.