PLOT: After contracting a deadly disease, a priest goes for a dangerous treatment that seems to kill most of the patience. But the priest survives, and soon finds himself craving something he’d never craved before… the taste of blood. Facing a moral dilemma as he desperately tries to control his hunger, he meets a girl from his past and soon begins a very dangerous game with. Soon, he finds it is almost unbearable to control his lady friend and his own urge for fresh blood.
Park Chan-wook created a shockingly brilliant and visual masterpiece of violence and humor with his Vengeance trilogy. Both LADY VENGEANCE and OLDBOY (and to a slightly lesser extent,
SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE) were unpredictable and utterly fascinating. With that said, my expectations for his latest vampire flick THIRST were pretty high. The idea of a priest becoming a vampire and having to figure out a way to feed is a good one. But Park simply doesn’t stop there, it is much deeper than a simple morality tale. The themes that burn through Thirst include everything from sex, abuse, religion, family and much more. And with that, I was slightly disappointed in this particular story. Unlike his previously mentioned films which may have appeared scattered but weren‘t, this absolutely changes gears several times throughout. It is an attempt to be shocking and brutal, but without the emotional payoff that ravaged his earlier work.
Now let’s get some of the negative out of the way. As beautifully directed as Thirst may be, it grows a tad redundant sometimes. The story that is filled with so many deep and psychological (sometimes horrific) issues is occasionally awkwardly paced. I wondered whether Park was just trying to mess with his audience by creating a sometimes difficult watch. A couple of sequences felt as if they were out of place, or possibly part of an entirely different film. At times, this was difficult to digest and I think some of this excess could have been cut from the 133 minute running time. With his earlier films, he was able to twist and manipulate the time and events, but it played out like an orchestration. The pieces all seemed to fit together in the end. This was more like a musical piece that scattered the voices and sounds in an oddly compelling, yet at the same time, unnerving and distracting way. Not all of it worked. But again, sometimes a challenging watch can pay off after time, if you decide to revisit. In many ways while this wasn’t as satisfying as OLDBOY, it still crept over me and made for good conversation afterwards.
Really, what you have here is a love story. I would almost compare it to the old French film called BETTY BLUE. A priest who is facing a moral dilemma falls in love with an abused wife of a friend. Simple right? And as their relationship begins to boil, it creates a sense of underlying violence which soon turns into the real thing. Both Song Kang-ho (THE HOST) as Sang-hyun (the priest) and Kim Ok-vin as Tae-ju, relish in a strange and anger fueled story of love. She is especially good here as her character falls for the priest and learns of his disease. It is these two actors with a very non-traditional love story who must make this work, and for the most part, they do. But if you are expecting a basic romantic situation, you are in for a shock. The sex between the two is fiercely erotic, but not nearly in a sensual and passionate way. It is angry and intense, much like the relationship they form.
Thirst certainly looks like a Park Chan-wook film. It is filled with startling images that are sometimes brutal and sometimes hilarious. In one thrillingly beautiful sequence, Tae-ju is being carried away from rooftop to rooftop after discovering the power that her vampire priest has. And don’t forget the wonderful way Park uses staircases… he does it here too. And yes, being a vamp film, the murders are certainly terrifying enough but not in a typical horror film fashion. This is part satire, part horror, part black comedy and part erotic thriller. It may not have the impact of OLDBOY or LADY VENGEANCE, and it may feel a bit scattered (maybe even a lot scattered), but it is certainly an audacious and frequently fascinating tale of morality, disease, love and lust. Absolutely worth a look for those looking for something fresh but slightly taxing on an audience. My rating 7.5/10 -- JimmyO