- User Rating: Excellent
Bang For The Buck
Pros:Interesting, sound effects are uncomfortable, imagery, acting
Cons:Very weird and long, anti-sympathetic characters
The Bottom Line: I can respect Chan-wook Park for trying something differentand he definitely has a style; recommended for the fans.
In this influx of vampire movies I was a little beside myself when I discovered that Chan-wook Park's next film was going to be Thirst, about a bloodsucking priest. I mean, the only good vampire movie (in my opinion) is Interview With A Vampire from how many years ago? Park's made a humongous name for himself not just in Korean cinema but on this shore as well with films like Oldboy and the terrific Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance where he mixes quick cuts, sly camera work, with a twisted and ambiguous story. He's one of my favorite directors and his newest film just came to town.
Thirst tells the story of Priest Sang-hyeon who volunteers for a medical experiment only to have it fail and turn him into a vampire due to a blood transfer. Being the only one that survived the experiment, he is branded a deity and famous in his small town. What comes to pass is a story of psychological and physical change where Sang-hyeon must drink blood from the hospital he works at in order to stay alive and healthy. Things take a turn, however, when an old childhood friend of his comes back into his life dying of an illness and needs his miracle work, but when the man's wife starts lusting after him and his vampire ways--sin enters the picture to no good end.
There isn't a huge helping of religious fervor in the film, but it overhangs throughout the whole picture with allegories. A lot of this movie strays away from the religious nature to delve more into guilt and drama rather than horror as well. This isn't a horror movie at all--there aren't any parts where you'll be scared or jump, but there is a wide variety of blood and sound effects that make your blood curdle. Throughout the movie there are a few scenes involving hardcore bloodsucking and the sound effects are disgusting! That being said there is a sex scene that's quite long with some kissing sound effects that are very loud and squishy. The sound made me on edge and was very gross; one of those things that you have to hear in context with the movie to truly understand.
Kang-ho Song plays the lead and he does a wonderful job-truly one of the gems of the picture. You might have seen this guy if you've ever seen the wonderful Korean monster movie, The Host, from a couple of years ago and he's previously been seen in a few other of Park's movies. Ok-vin Kim plays the seductive wife and is the glue for the film. Her character is conniving and venomous and as the film goes on becomes even viler. These two actors are the biggest characters in the film and play off each other quite well given the nature of the movie where they are in awkward situations quite frequently-and strongly play to each other's styles.
This being a Chan-wook Park film, there are gorgeous set ups and production designs. While this isn't as slick as Oldboy (or as fast-moving for that matter), there are still a handful of scenes I'm going to remember months down the road. I don't want to give anything away, but there's a point in the movie where the priest paints a room perfectly white and sets up a ton of lights due to his longing to see the sun again and when the blood splatters the white outcrop it's vividly poetic and chaotic. There are also some dreamy almost martial arts-like jumps seen here (a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and the camera work following the activity is stunning. The last parts of the movie (hell, the entire movie) are also unforgettable due to Park's unflinching narrative that doesn't succumb to norms seen in cinema.
While I did enjoy this movie, there was a lot to be disappointed about. For one, the movie is pretty long at 133 minutes and it feels long. The film starts off really slow, too, and takes about half the movie to get moving. While it was still interesting, it was still pretty stale. The last twenty minutes or so almost makes up for it, but at the same time the characters in which you are watching the entire movie are so brutally dishonest and poor that you have no sympathy for them whatsoever--at least I didn't. While this interpretation is purely up to the viewer alone, there were no safe characters I could really identify with or sympathize except for the sick husband.
What also needs to be said is that this film is weird. There are a lot of strange and brutal images as well as poor scene structure that's out of place almost that make you wonder what you are watching. After the movie I had to scrounge around the internet to see what other peoples' interpretations of things were and while this is usually fun for me, Thirst, it was a harrowing experience. There were just some things that needed leaps of logic as well as some that I still don't fully understand.
This isn't casual movie watching--this is a foreign, bloodily exotic film that is definitely a departure from Chan-wook Park's priors and while I still had a good time (and it was the right price), I'm going to be very picky about who I recommend it to. The vampire nature of the film almost take a back seat to the temptations that the priest has-not just with blood, but lust--and in the end, it's very much like style over substance. I'd recommend this to any fan of Park's, but it's so slow moving and disconnected that I don't see a regular film buff appreciating it that much.
I'm very split on this movie because I'm biased of the director, but I will not be the first to say that I was disappointed here given how much I've thoroughly enjoyed his past work. I'd say, if you find it cheap and are willing to invest yourself deeply in the film, go for it, but if you are expecting a standard Asian vampire/horror movie, look elsewhere, sparkles.
[update: Dec. 2009, I'm going to round this up to four stars because while my opinion is still consistant with what I wrote a few months ago, it's still a pretty good film] :)
© Jason Haskins, 2009
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Movie Mood: Die-hard Fans Only
Viewing Method: Studio Screening/Premiere
Film Completeness: A few glitches, but mostly complete.
Worst Part of this Film: Duration