Pros: Masterful film work from Korea's premeire director. Five Star performance.
Cons: Subject matter disturbing. Not for kids.
Thirst [Bakjwi] (2009) Directed by Park Chan-Wook
"Grant me the following in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like a leper rotting in flesh, let all avoid me. Like a cripple without limbs, let me not move freely. Remove my cheeks, that tears may not roll down them. Crush my lips and tongue, that I may not sin with them. Pull out my nails, that I may not grasp anything. Let my shoulders and back be bent, that I may carry nothing. Like a man with tumor in the head let me lack judgment. Ravage my body sworn to chastity leave me with no pride, and have me live in shame. Let no one pray for me. But only the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me." Father Sang-Hyeon
Father Sang-Hyeon (Song Kang-ho) is a priest, worn down by his work in a hospice setting. When the mysterious Emmanuel Virus strikes Africa, striking almost exclusively single men of White and Asian backgrounds, Father Sang-Hyeon volunteers to help develop the vaccine as a human guinea pig. Is it a death wish, or an urge to martyrdom? Who knows? But when he is dying, they transfuse him and something worse than the Emmanuel virus was in the blood.
Father Sang-Hyeon is the only survivor of 50 volunteers. As such, he attracts a great deal of attention from the faithful, seeking prayers for their loved ones. The disfiguring blisters of Emmanuel Virus dictate he wear bandages, leading to his nickname, the Bandaged Saint.
But the young priest discovers his condition is far more complex than he first thought. He is horribly photosensitive; sunlight raises a whole new crop of blisters. And he experiences hungers. Blood in particular attracts him and consuming it miraculously heals his blistered skin. Still, the bandages help protect him from the light.
However, as he recovers, he is accosted by Lady Ra (Kim Hae-Sook) a mother desperate for a cure for her son, Kang-Woo (Shin Ha-Kyun). He prays for him, and the young man survives.
It falls out that the good father and Lady Ra knew each other already. As an orphanage kid, Lady Ra had feed Sang-Hyeon noodles, probably to secure a playmate for her mentally defective son. Lady Ra also took in a foundling girl, Tae-Ju (Kim Ok-Bin) who ended up married to the simple Kang-Woo. Tae-Ju is trapped by duty and obligation into a life she hates, made even worse by Lady Ra's constant reminders of how much Tae-Ju owes to her benefactrix.
The Vampire blood in the priest stirs his passions. Tae-Ju's passions come pre-stirred, and the two of them engage in an affair. The priest's control, so important to controlling his blood lust, is beginning to slip. And Tae-Ju, so long repressed and down trodden, begins to bloom. But of course, their affair, so inherently wrong, can only bear poisonous fruit. She's married, he's a catholic priest, and infected with not one, but two interacting deadly diseases. And neither seems to be able to manage their thirsts for life.
Part of the reason this works so well is that when Park wants to make a genre movie, he also makes a human drama, and relates the genre (in this case horror) elements to the human condition. A story must be about people, not concepts, and a vampire is only a concept. Father Sang-Hyeon, the martyr turned vampire and besieged with passions that threaten to overcome who he is, to turn him into a monster, and a damned soul, that is a person. And you care about his story, and the others whom his life touches. That is why Park's stories are always so good. He never loses sight of the axiom Character first, Drama next and special effects and emotional gimmicks support this. I hope whichever American director rips this off for the remake steals that lesson first.
That is what makes the horror of Father's choices all the more terrifying, and his suffering more real.
This review, like Tae-Ju, is Lean-N-Mean. It is also entered into Captain D's Good Movies Write Off.
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