Director Park Chan-wook seems in a class by himself. Even though he is a Korean filmmaker, his name is recognizable around the world in award-winning films such as "Oldboy" (2003).
His international celebrity, however, did not automatically translate into hefty box-office profits. For instance, "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK" (2006) was not OK for investors and distributors, failing miserably in terms of ticket sales despite the high-profile casting of Asia-wide star Rain.
When his next project, "Thirst," began circulating in the domestic media in recent months, expectations surged again and critics lost no time talking up Park's newfound appetite for a vampire film, a genre unfamiliar among Korean moviegoers.
But Park seemed confident about his peculiar decision to tackle the traditionally Western subject, suggesting that he would sate the growing thirst of his fans around the world.
"I am in no position to say that 'Thirst' would be the best film in my career, but I can definitely say that this is my favorite movie ever," Park told reporters at a news conference in Seoul on Tuesday to offer a glimpse of the well-shrouded film. A press screening is expected in a couple of weeks.
Bolstering Park's confidence is the unprecedented amount of time and energy he devoted to the film. Park said he spent 10 years bringing this vampire story to the screen. Moreover, he said he has infused part of his self into the main character for the first time.
"The character's weakness and absurd justification is very similar to my character, and even when I take a moviegoer's perspective myself, this film best reflects my taste," Park said.
Park pulled off an investment and distribution partnership with Universal Pictures International, marking the first deal of its kind for a Korean film. Under the deal, Focus Pictures, a unit of Universal, will distribute "Thirst" to the North American market.
The film starts off with a secret vaccine project involving a priest named Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho). An unexpected mishap in a medical experiment turns him into a vampire who has to struggle between his desire for blood and his religious faith. His newly transformed life, however, gets turned upside down when he comes across his friend's wife Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin), a relationship that turns deadly.
Song Kang-ho, widely regarded as one of the most bankable Korean actors, said "Thirst" is eventually a tale about love.
"This movie involves fatal love, melodrama and forbidden desire, but I believe the key message is love that is eternal and unlimited in scope," Song said.
Song first heard about the project when he was working with Park on "JSA" in 1999.
"I was speechless when Park told me about the vampire story, because I couldn't get his idea at all and I wondered whether it would ever be made into a film," he said.
Park expressed his satisfaction about the casting.
"Song Kang-ho is very smart and he has a great focus. There were a lot of requests for changes in acting on the set, but Song meets such abrupt demands perfectly as if he has practiced his performance for many days," Park said.
Casting Kim Ok-vin was deemed a surprise by the domestic film industry because her career has been relatively brief. But Park said he was pleasantly surprised by Kim's handling of her character.
"I wanted an actress who could play an unstable character who made observers worried and anxious, and Kim's performance topped my expectations," Park said.
"Thirst," distributed by CJ Entertainment, will be released nationwide on April 30.