Korea's "Tom Hanks" heading to Cannes as a vampire

SEOUL Wed May 6, 2009 6:08am EDT

1 of 4. South Korean movie actor Song Kang-ho smiles during an interview with Reuters regarding his new movie 'Thirst', one of the 62nd Cannes Film Festival nominees, in Seoul May 4, 2009. One of South Korea's most bankable stars will return to the red carpet of the Cannes International Film Festival next week with a blood-soaked morality tale of a Catholic priest turned vampire. Picture taken May 4, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak

SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - One of South Korea's most bankable stars will return to the red carpet of the Cannes International Film Festival next week with a blood-soaked morality tale of a Catholic priest turned vampire.

Actor Song Kang-ho teams with director Park Chan-wook, who won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2004 for his film "Old Boy," in a film in competition called "Thirst" which offers a new-fangled Korean take on the staple Hollywood vampire horror genre.

"I believe South Korea has already passed the point where its films need to rely on being Oriental. Now Asian films can independently reinterpret what has been considered typically Western," Song told Reuters in a recent interview.

Song, 42, dubbed by local media as South Korea's version of Tom Hanks, is known for his stellar work in some of the country's most critically acclaimed and commercially successful films.

He said he found the role of a vampire all in a day's work.

"I think an actor should always try to interpret whatever type of character through a new perspective and in a provocative way," Song said. "There isn't too much of a difference in my mindset between playing a North Korean soldier and a priest."

Song's role as a North Korean soldier in the 2000 movie "JSA" from director Park, earned him overseas recognition as the film played the global festival circuit and art house theatres.

The actor first gained prominence as a stuttering lowlife in the 1997 movie "No. 3" and starred as a bumbling, down-on-his-luck parent in the 2006 film "The Host," the first South Korean movie to top $100 million at the local box office.

Song, known for his guy-next-door looks and ability to do comedy and drama equally well, will be making his third trip to Cannes to promote a film.

In "Thirst," Song plays a priest who becomes a vampire after receiving a blood transfusion in a medical experiment. He meets a temptress in the form of a bored housewife, played by rising star Kim Ok-vin, who plots murder.

"This is a story about a human, of course a priest here, who is forced to the extremes," said Song.

The movie called "Bakjwi" in Korean opened last week in South Korea and has already topped 1 million viewers, which is considered a barometer in the domestic market for a blockbuster.

"Song's eyes are amazing. They can carry millions of different expressions and feelings," co-star Kim said.

"Thirst" was also the first Korean film to receive production funding and a distribution deal from Hollywood studios with Universal Pictures and Focus Features investing in the project in a vote of confidence for Song and director Park, U.S. entertainment trade publication Variety reported.

"South Korea is diverse, dynamic, and passionate. For better or worse, it is never a quite country. And from that comes the power of South Korean films," Song said.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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