Thirst (2009), or Care For A Taste?

26 11 2009

For all those in the know, Park Chan-wook is the face of the Korean extreme film. He is our Quentin Tarantino, and when one of his films arrives, it’s really a big event for moviegoers. When you want in-your-face movie-making, cerebral storytelling, and violence coming at you like a bloody, goring bull dog screaming in garbled Portuguese about his Pupperoni, Park Chan-wook is the guy you talk to. Today I checked out his latest film, entitled Thirst, about a priest who, through a series of mishaps, and despite his altruism, becomes a vampire. It is darkly conceived and divinely inspired by an Emile Zola play, and I enjoyed it, but much like the other Chan-wook films I’ve seen, it seems to run out of steam at times, and I can’t help but feel that there were better scripting choices that were foregone in favor of what would make situations end the most violently.

Poor, poor Sang-hyun. He’s got it rough. He’s a Korean Catholic priest who has two faces; that of the unbending and rigid faith of a priest, and that of a doubting man, someone who, in his heart of hearts, has a problem with all the suffering and death around him caused by an allegedly loving God. In his drive to help people, he decides to volunteer for experimentation to cure a very deadly disease. He is a very brave man, and he does a very good thing, but the experiment is a disaster, and everyone dies during the experiment. He, however, is quickly revived and completely healed after he’s given more blood in his IV. Sang-hyun leaves the treatment center after a few months, and is cleared to return to his parish. He is famous around the area for being only one in 500 to survive the experiment, and is considered to be something of a miracle. He is invited to the house of a dress maker whose son has cancer after he prays for him. There, he falls for Tae-ju the wife of the woman’s son, a thin, quiet girl he remembers from his youth. She’s changed into a beautiful woman since they last met, but he has changed as well. He no longer is seen during the day, he has an amazing amount of strength and speed, and nobody ever sees him eat anything…

The film focuses on Sang-hyun and Tae-ju’s illicit relationship. It’s a very sensual movie that relies on the transformative properties of the characters to bring a lot of the romance home. You don’t quite know where the characters stand, and even those who you feel would never be able to do something against type will shock you. This can also pose a problem, though, because in this particular instance, I feel like some of these characters were almost hyper-transformative, too unpredictable and unnatural, while some characters, like Sangh-hyun, atrophied as a character about 45 minutes in. It can be a bit annoying, but it doesn’t totally distract as much as it does bother.

Chan-wook Park directs with such a passion. It is clearly his dream to make movies, and his drive inhabits every scene as an auteur who writes and directs his own material. Zola’s play must be very close to his heart, because my heart swells at this well-timed and beautifully framed affair. Even when Park’s infamous blood and gore bursts onto the screen, it’s still grotesquely lovely, in a way. Aesthetically pleasing in every way, this movie takes sensuality to a new level with the love scenes. Actors Kang-ho Song and Ok-vin Kim positively set the film ablaze when their passion ignites as characters Sang-hyun and Tae-ju, and I don’t say it lightly when I posit that they have one of the most intense and engrossing love scenes I’ve ever seen together. But I will say that Park did let the film drag a bit. There are some largely unnecessary sequences added for seemingly no purpose and, as I said earlier, some of the character changes seemed extraneous, which hurt the momentum a bit.

But the actors are amazing, the direction is exquisite, and it’s an interesting take on the vampire legend. Thirst is about a man at odds with himself as well as the world he has constructed around himself. He is surrounded by things that disgust him, including himself, and even in his dark solaces there is nothing to truly comfort him. The film begs of us, “Where is salvation for the damned?” and we leave the theater without much of an answer, only a desire to not ever find ourselves in that situation. This is another violent chapter in Park’s cinematic legacy, and while it is not perfect, I do feel that there is a lot of value here for the film connoisseur. Take a chance on it, and you won’t be disappointed. And, hey, even better news, the DVD I saw didn’t even have an English dub of the dialog! Take that, subtitle-hating fiends everywhere! I give Thirst 7 1/2 dark solaces out of 10! Enjoy!

Tomorrow I will take a ride into the 80s with Heavy Metal! Until then!!!