Park Chan-wook, South Korean Film Maker

Contemporary films tend to reflect Ethic values, which denote something’s degree of importance, with the aim of determining what action or life is best to do or live, or at least attempt to describe the value of different actions; it deals with correct conduct and good life, in the sense that a highly, or at least relatively highly, valuable action may be regarded as ethic “good” (adjective sense), and an action of low, or at least relatively low, value may be regarded as “bad”.
In collectivist countries within Asia, if a member expresses a value that is in serious conflict with the group’s norms, the latter may carry out various ways of encouraging conformity or stigmatizing the non-conformist behavior of its members.
That is why, I believe, many famous Asian artists and their masterpieces, which are based on national ideals such as patriotism, find difficulty in penetrating the European market as it is difficult to make onecountry believe the virtues of another.
However, despite extreme violence in his films, Park Chan-wook, who is regarded as one of the most acclaimed film makers in South Korea, has been extraordinarily successful in the European film industry with “The Vengeance Trilogy”, consisting of 2002’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003) and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005).
I met Park on 7th October at the Korean Cultural Centre UK in London.
He was about to launch his latest film “Thirst” in the UK and I was lucky enough to seek his views about the film’s philosophy.
Park grew up in Seoul and studied Philosophy at Sogang University, where he started a cinema-club called the ‘Sogang Film Community’ and published a number of articles on contemporary cinema.
Originally intending to be an art critic, upon seeing “Vertigo” he resolved to try to become a filmmaker.
Throughout Park’s “Revenge Trilogy”, the movies have generated extreme reactions from both viewers and critics.
Some reviews have blasted it as a crudely described black comedy while others applauded it as a masterpiece of human observation.
Thirst (2009) the new film from director Park Chan-wook is already a box officesmash in Korea.
Thirst was honoured with the Prix du Jury at the 2009 Cannes International Film Festival.
The film tells the story of a priest, who is in love with his friend’s wife, turning intoa vampire through a failed medical experimentand soon plunges into a world of sensual pleasures, finding himself on intimateterms with the Seven Deadly Sins.

Sang-hyun is a priest who volunteers to participate in an experiment to find a vaccine for the deadly Emmanuel Virus (EV) with the hope of saving even one life. The virus kills him, but he is miraculously resurrected by blood transfusion. Unfortunately, the miracle comes with a seriousside effect: he turns into a vampire. Only a continual supply of fresh human blood can reverse the symptoms of EV infection. News of his marvelous recovery is quickly spread to the devout parishioners of Sang-hyun’s congregation and they begin to believe that the man has a miraculous gift for healing. Soon thousands more people flock to Sang-hyun’s services. While grappling with his disturbing new habit-and superpowers-Sang-hyun becomes attracted to Tae-ju, wife of Kang-woo, Sang-hyun’s childhood friend. The two begin an affair. When Sang-hyun pleads with her to run away with him she turns him down suggesting that they kill her husband instead. At first, Sang-hyun feels a newfound vigor by his insistent bodily desires, but soon, he is aghast to find himself sucking down blood from a comatose patient in the hospital. After attempting to kill himself he finds that he is drawn back to the taste of human blood against his will. Desperately trying to avoid committing a murder, he resorts to stealing blood transfusion packs from the hospital. He is powerless to stop the faithful who regard his vampirism as a sign of being touchedby God: having committed a mortal sin outof love, he figuratively and literally drown sin guilt……

What makes Park so different is his ability to generate norms within his work frame; such norms are rules for behaviour in specific situations, while values identify what should be judged as good or evil; groups, societies, or cultures have values that are largely shared by their members; the values identify those objects, conditions or characteristics that members of the society consider important, that is, valuable.
In this sense, again, what makes Park’s film so valuable is he actually creates norms based on human instincts and conceptual visualization rather than emotions or cultural influences, which might differ from one country to another, resulting inbeing less agreeable to each other.
In other words, in his films, actors take part in a culture even if each member’s personal values do not entirely agree with some of the normative values sanctioned within this culture, which leads them to decide to take a particular action.
This reflects an audience’s ability to synthesize and extract aspects valuable to them from the multiple subcultures to which they belong.
Within this kind of frame work, the audiences are only able to agree with the concept of “good” or “bad” rather than “how they feel”.
Thus evidencing how Park has through his skill avoided relative values, which may be explained as an assumption upon which implementation can be extrapolated, but agreeably approached to the absolute standard.
This standard is philosophically absolute and independent of individual and cultural views, as well as being independent as to whether an object is discovered to have it or not.
Value system….
I believe that this concept is what Asianfilm makers or entertainers need to think about before they plan to penetrate this culturally different European market.

Written by LEE Hyung-wook, Editor in Chief, The East (

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