With Nazi scalpings, genital mutilation and violent rape scenes appearing in various places throughout Cannes’ Official Competition, this year’s selection undoubtedly contains the most explicit content in recent memory.
But while Lars Von Trier’s "Antichrist" — recently picked up for U.S. distribution by IFC Films — may offer the most infamously extreme image of the festival, he’s a relative newcomer to the art of the gross-out. Only one person from the competition crowd, "Thirst" director Park Chan-Wook, has extensive experience with the art of heavy gore (although "Inglourious Basterds" auteur Quentin Tarantino takes a close second place).
Park, whose "Oldboy" and other earlier features churned stomachs around the world, offers an enjoyably lurid take on the vampire genre. (As I pointed out earlier in this space, it begs comparison to "Twilight" for its central relationship.) While hardly a favorite of the festival, "Thirst" succeeds as a lively crowd pleaser.
The series of bloody murders and other gruesome antics enacted by the demonic anti-hero add to the history of viscera appearing in Park’s movies. As a result, he’s the ideal filmmaker to shed insight on the motivating factors behind such inclusions.
"I carefully plan everything beforehand," the director said during a roundtable interview with American journalists earlier this week. "When it comes to gore, it is not in there because of some impulsive decision. It has been predetermined. If it has any adverse effects at the end of the day, I don’t have any excuses."
Still, he expressed disdain for the pundits who drew comparisons between the pose of 2007 Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho and a poster for "Oldboy," which led to insinuations that he had been driven to violence after watching the film.
"It’s quite irresponsible to say, without proof, that there’s a correlation between my films and the people who used them for their own social purposes," Park says. "Just to say a person had taken a similar pose in a photograph — it is probably easier for the media to make a visual comparison."
However, he has apparently made peace with the controversy. "Visual media has such a great influence on society," he says. "As a person who works in the industry, it’s something I probably have to live with."
Meanwhile, Cannes continues to celebrate the horror genre with an out-of-competition screening tonight of Sam Raimi’s "Drag Me to Hell" — although the content of that upcoming release from Universal Pictures looks like child’s play compared to Park’s latest work.