Winner of the Grand Jury Prize in the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and recipient of critical and box-office acclaim in Asia, I jumped at the chance to see Park Chan Wook’s (Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) "THIRST". The film is a horror-satirical drama that explores the dark bestial side of humanity that is quite bizarre, even creepy on occasion, but never for one minute does the film relent in exploring the psyche that comes from alienation and loneliness, while becoming a slave of love and lust.
Sang Hyun (Song Kang-Ho, The Host, Memories of Murder) is a Catholic priest who volunteers in a local hospital. He provides last rites when necessary as well emotional support to its patients. Father Hyun is well-respected but he secretly suffers from emotions that can be defined as doubt, as he witnesses the dark world around him. Yet, he cherishes life, so he volunteers to take part in an experiment to eradicate the lethal EV virus, which is a threat to every Caucasian and Asian male. Father Hyun becomes stricken with the deadly virus and a blood transfusion is ordered up for him to save his life; in turn he becomes the first survivor of the deadly virus and some folks begin to regard him as a saint. But soon after his new lease on life, Hyun finds out that the blood he had received is infected and he is now living as a vampire that only the consumption of human blood can stave off the virus.
Father Hyun struggles with his new found carnal desire for blood, and now also, his faith is put to the test when a childhood friend’s wife, Tae-Ju (sexy Kim Ok-Vin) comes to him to escape the life she knew all her life. Sang-Hyun is now overwhelmed with his desires of the flesh, as he plunges deep within the world of carnal and sensual desires that brings him in intimate terms with the Seven Deadly Sins…
Park Chan-Wook is one clever director in creating a new take on the vampire lore that blends the elements of the Seven Deadly Sins; Gluttony, Sloth, Lust, Greed, Pride, Wrath and Envy. The vampirism as seen by Park’s rendition does have similarities to the established myths about vampires; vulnerability to sunlight, superhuman strength and speed, with a strong need for human blood—curiously this vampire does not grow fangs. The need for human blood is necessary to stave off the virus that somewhat touches on the sin of Gluttony. Lust and Envy is represented through Father Hyun’s desire for Kang-Woo’s (Shin Ha-Kyun) wife. Pride is represented when Hyun allows himself to be seen as a "Saint" at first. Sloth when he gains lesions and when he has to live in a dirty basement. Greed for life as he becomes afraid of dying and hungry for companionship. Wrath as Hyun is led to murder and he is brought face to face with the consequences of his actions. Vampirism becomes seen as the ultimate root of evil in the eyes of Father Hyun, but in some ironic manner, it all frees him of his inhibitions.
Song Kang-Ho is one VERY versatile actor. The man has played different roles throughout his career and he is clearly the right man for the role of Father Hyun. Hyun becomes a compelling character as we see him torn between the need to survive while avoiding the need to kill. "God feeds even the birds in the sky", so Hyun resorts to slowly drinking the blood for comatose patients in the hospital (but never killing them) and people who wish to commit suicide. He also tries to overcome his lustful thoughts by hitting his thighs to overcome an erection. Curiously, Hyun becomes more aware of himself when he became a vampire; he realizes exactly who he is as he finds himself leaving the Order. Tae-Ju is one imbalanced woman who is manipulative of any situation. She seduces the kindly priest and manipulates him into believing that she is an abused wife; she is a woman torn between her reliance on her husband and the need to be free (as symbolized by her constant running at night). The sex scenes between Kang-Ho and Ok-Vin are quite erotically creepy at times, and very graphic; comparable to some Japanese pink films.
The film’s takes up a darkly satirical tone that becomes weirder and darker as the film progresses, yet, it also becomes funnier, more bizarre and grittier. There is one very bizarre scene when Hyun and Tae-ju is having sex, with a vision of Tae-ju’s dead husband sandwiched between them to bring the guilt of the murderous deed into exposition. While the first half of the film brings the weaknesses of the flesh with Hyun’s character, the second half progresses in bringing its consequences. Hyun is overly obsessed with sexy Tae-ju as he would do whatever it takes to be with her, even though he is aware that she is somewhat imbalanced, she is all he has and he turns her; much to his regret later. While Hyun would avoid killing a human for his need, Tae-ju becomes drunk with power, as she doesn’t mind killing at all. It is a testament to Park’s skills as director as the plot revolves around his characters; that somewhat touches upon certain definitions of being a monster as well as how you wield certain abilities, with the definition of being human coming full circle in the screenplay. I loved the way Father Hyun began to atone for his sins one by one. He also gets rid of his "Saintly" image by letting himself be caught with a woman that led to him becoming scorned.
It is hard for me to find flaws in the script, the metaphors and symbols are executed masterfully; even the supporting characters are significant vehicles in fleshing out the main protagonists. I suppose if one wanted to nit-pick, one may say that the paralysis of Tae-ju’s mother-in-law (played by Kim Hae-Sook) felt a little forced to generate some humor. Also, it can be argued that Tae-ju’s character isn’t as well written as Father Hyun’s. Still, these flaws are very minor as Park Chan-Wook successfully brings us to a world full of darkness and very GRIM humor with an atmosphere that resembles a fable and excellent cinematography to match. "Thirst" isn’t a comedy, but it is funny in a way that is both creepy and gloomy at the same time. The film also has a good share of blood and some gore, and yes, quite a good number of nudity and sex. (It is also the first mainstream Korean film that features male full frontal nudity)
"Thirst" is ultimately a success. Park Chan Wook was able to come up with a beautiful film that is full of elegy, while exploring the flaws of the human mind, that treats vampirism as a cause for the realization of one’s carnal desires in incorporating a Catholic overtone. I really loved the manner in which Park executed this original vampire film that BOLDLY dares to be different. It is not a horror film per se, but its horror elements come from the Fears of making the wrong decisions.
Definitely lyrical, darkly satirical, often Ironic and so erotically sexy, yet, so engagingly beautiful with compelling characters, Park Chan Wook’s "Thirst" is destined to attain a large cult following.
Highly Recommended! [5 Stars]
See this before Hollywood massacres it with a remake.
About Thirst (Bakjwi) (2009)
Starring: Ok-bin Kim, Kang-ho Song, Dal-su Oh, Young-chang Song, Hee-jin Choi, Woo-seul-hye Hwang, Hwa-ryong Lee, Mi-ran Ra, Hae-suk Kim, Ha-kyun Shin, In-hwan Park, Mercedes Cabral, Eriq Ebouaney
Director: Chan-wook Park