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South Korea 2009

Drama, Romance, Horror

Park Chan-wook

Song Kang-ho
Kim Ok-bin
Shin Ha-kyeon
Kim Hae-sook
Park In-hwan
Oh Dal-su
Song Young-chang
Mercedes Cabral
Eriq Ebouaney
Choi Hee-jin
Lee Hwa-ryong
Ra Mi-ran
Hwang Woo-seul-hye

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Story: Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) is a catholic priest who wants to help people. His will to make sacrifices even makes him volunteer for an highly expermintal remedy test. For this he lets himself get infected with a mysterious illness, the "Emanuelle Virus" for which there is only very little hope of surviving it. In fact Sang-hyeon is lying in his death-bed when he gets a blood transfusion which saves his life. His wondrous healing is because of the blood itself as the blood is apparently from a vampire which is why he slowly starts to turn into such a being himself. There are more and more feelings of lust growing inside him which he almost can't hold back anymore. When after that he meets some old acquaintances of whom one is the pretty girl Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), he can't control his drive for physical pleasure anymore. While he satisfies his thirst with blood units he physically approaches the married girl Tae-ju who isn't content with her husband and life. Sang-hyeon's love for Tae-ju grows stronger so that he tells her about his "illness" eventually. After the initial shock Tae-ju copes with the idea of loving a vampire and tells the priest that she gets abused by her husband. She hopes that Sang-hyeon can get rid of her husband so that the two of them can live together happily...

Review: Well, so "Thirst" is the vampire movie Park Chan-wook has been thinking about for years and now has finally brought on screen. After his definitely schizophrenic and most of all disillusioningly disappointing "I'm a Cyborg but that's ok" I wasn't that excited about the movie and kept my expectations low. And it proves that this wasn't a mistake since Park's newest film once again doesn't really show us the true expertise of the director. That a vampire movie in the hands of this director would look a little bit different than what you are used to see isn't surprising and in fact is welcome, too. But Park's erotically loaded love story in a vampire wrapping is realized too badly - narration-wise and thematically - to really charm. Moreover, the mood also changes too drastically from dark or dramatic to stingingly humorous or the most bitter black irony. The grotesque is what links the different parts together and sometimes leaves you a little bit unsure and confused. Anyway, Park Chan-wook doesn't succeed in replicating his former successes, neither with regards to content nor when it comes to style.

A priest becoming a vampire. In the hands of such a capable director as Park Chan-wook you inevitably imagine a fantastic movie full of artfully composed pictures. But what we get in the end is simply a romantic drama that centers around a once devout priest who is suddenly driven by feelings of lust. Erotiscism and vampirism are themes interwoven for quite some time already. The kiss of a vampire, triggering an enormous feeling of ecstacy, the exchange of fluids, namely the red juice of life, all of this also stands under the heading of sin in Park's work. Therefore it also shouldn't surprise that the film contains some hot erotic scenes. Not only do we get to see Kim Ok-bin topless, but irritatingly in a small scene we get to see Song Kang-ho's lower body part naked, too. This should give a rough idea in which direction Park goes with his vampire story. Naturally he also focuses on religion to a large degree and thus there are also some of the seven deadly sins the movie deals with in an encrypted fashion, like the sins of lust or envy which make the priest do things he never would have done as a human.

Nevertheless, the priest Sang-hyeon still can retain some part of his soul even if he is driven by the lust for blood and carnal desires. He doesn't just suck out humans, but tries to get his hands on blood in other ways. Of course, his thirst for blood becomes too great at some point so that he oversteps certain lines he never would have as a human, not even in his dreams, yet he keeps some of his human nature alive which makes it easy for us to suffer alongside him. Song Kang-ho ("The Host", "The Good, the Bad, the Weird", "JSA") once again manages to play his part with flying colors, this time portraying a man punished by god, even though the screenplay seems to have missed drawing out the peculiarities concerning his character.
Kim Ok-bin ("Dasepo Naughty Girls") plays the part of the femme fatale who always has something mysterious but also pitiable about her. Especially towards the end she manages to get more and more out of her role and almost outshines Song when it comes to screen presence.

"Thirst" doesn't only deliver a lot of sex but also violence. Blood gets drunken in gallons so that the viewer almost gets sick of watching it. Apart from a few small scenes in the last third of the movie there are no real shocking moments, though. The film proves to be more of a quiet (family)drama whereas it has to be said that it's nice to see Shin Ha-kyeong ("Save the Green Planet") in a supporting role here since he can carry the oftentimes too awkward humor of the director the best. Some of the scenes imbued with jet-black humor are too odd, however, to really arouse any laughters. The audience is rather left with an alienating feeling which is especially the case concerning some of the casually thrown in dream sequences or day dreams. A lot of them simply don't fit together. Whereas the very unique humor of the director could add to the movie quality of his former works we get to see the back side of the medal here which creates a repulsive feeling. The worst part, however, is that the film actually doesn't seem to have to tell anything. As a result the almost 135 minutes feel unnecessarily stretched even the more as Park often runs in circles with his story.

The script depicts the film's biggest flaw. According to Park Chan-wook the story is based on Émile Zola's "Thérèse Raquin", even if there were no vampires in his story, but the director neither manages to satisfyingly draw out his transfer of Zola's story into the vampire genre nor depict the lower middle class family drama set in motion by an unfaithful wife. Sadly, even his pictures aren't really outstanding. But what's left of this director's skills, if he isn't even capable of bringing his former creativeness to paper nor to the big screen anymore? Have his former masterpieces sucked out all creativeness of Park? At least it has to be pointed out that "Thirst" offers more coherence than "I'm a Cyborg but that's ok" even if a true red thread might look different than what we get here. Furthermore, the ending actually could have been moving as we realize later on if we hadn't had such an cold emotional bond to the characters. Park Chan-wook has missed too many opportunities in his newest movie and only thanks to its "uniqueness" "Thirst" oftentimes seems more interesting than it maybe deserves to be called actually. However, the fact that this movie is supposed to be from the same director who brought us such masterpieces as "JSA" and "Oldboy" somehow seems pretty unbelievable...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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