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Foreign Horror > Thirst (Park Chan-Wook, 2009)

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message 1: by Phillip (last edited Aug 25, 2009 11:40PM) (new)

Phillip Thirst (Park Chan-Wook, 2009)

Just a hint of SPOILERS:

Thirst presents another fresh look at the vampire genre, and is fairly well toned-down in terms of graphic violence from the director's previous release Oldboy.

The film focuses on a priest who volunteers for an experiment and undergoes medical treatment and examinations. During the procedure he is given a blood transfusion, and is the only survivor of a series of tests for a kind of virus that causes boils and leisions to appear and eventual death. What he doesn't realize is that the transfusion he received is the thing that enables him to survive the virus, and that transfusion has also caused him to become a vampire.

He returns to his community and begins to transform in ways that challenge the old myths about vampires. He befriends a family and is smitten with the young wife of a family friend.

The film focuses mainly on the moral challenges the priest faces as he deals with his new identity rather than running amok with rampant blood-sucking, and in this way the film is a refreshing look at the genre. If you saw Park Chan-Wook's Oldboy, don't expect the ruthless violence that populated nearly every frame of that feature. While Thirst is certainly not a tame vampire flick, it also resists some of the cliches that comes with the territory.

message 2: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 226 comments I'm really looking forward to this film! You're lucky Phillip to be in a creative market, where most of the population has all of their teeth: this film will never play in rural PA, so I'll have to wait for a blu-ray release.

message 3: by Phillip (last edited Aug 25, 2009 11:37PM) (new)

Phillip i realize i'm lucky, and am thankful to be here. i lived in the woods for a few years right out of high school and realized i can't exist without the rich culture you find in places like the bay area. so, more than mere luck, it was a choice. there are, of course, drawbacks to living here (it's bloody expensive for starters), but it feels like home.

and, it isn't just the movie thing. i rode my bike down to the ivy room last night and heard three groups featuring some of the bay area's finest musicians...and there wasn't a cover charge. for the cost of a coke i heard two hours of amazing improvised music and post-jazz (just try to find that kind of thing in new york!)

but the whole DVD and Blu-ray thing has really helped to bring great cinema to the home systems. when i compare that with the kind of selection you had to chose from when i was in high school it really blows me away. i'm just as thankful for that.

message 4: by Bill (new)

Bill I'm off to see this film this evening. I've been wanting to see it ever since I missed it in Cannes this spring. (I love writing that.) I've seen Park Chan-Wook's other films and found them visually exciting, full of great filmmaking. Oldboy is probably his best so far; Lady Vengeance's plot didn't work very well at all for me. There have been some great films out of Korea in the last decade. If you haven't seen it, check out Memories of Murder.

message 5: by Phillip (new)

Phillip thanks for the memories of murder recommendation, bill. is that by the same director?

message 6: by Bill (new)

Bill No, it's directed by Bong Joon-ho who also did the film THE HOST and another good mystery film I saw at Cannes this year, MOTHER.

message 7: by Phillip (new)

Phillip oh, i really liked the host - i'll look for that.

message 8: by Bill (new)

Bill Phillip wrote: "oh, i really liked the host - i'll look for that."

Okay, here's my take on Thirst.

BAKJWI (THIRST) was the fifth Chan-wook Park film I've seen. And while it was a little disappointing, I was heartened by the fact Park seems to be growing as an artist. While THIRST is not as exciting a film as OLDBOY (which was one of the most exhilarating film experiences I've had in recent years), it is light years beyond it in terms of thematic development. How does a good man live with an evil curse? How does he reconcile his faith in God and everlasting life with the realization there is evil and undead in the world? This is not your grandfather's vampire tale. Similar to the great LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, which similarly used the trappings of the vampire genre to explore coming of age and alienation, THIRST uses all the basic tropes of vampire lore - super human strength, the ability to defy gravity, rapid healing, aversion to sunlight - but focuses instead on what it must be like to deal with the disease. Father Sany-hyean (played by the wonderful Kang-ho Song, who manages to brilliantly become someone else in each film he is in), having been saved by vampire blood, must balance his life as a Catholic priest with his life as a vampire. He remains remarkably human in this struggle, as he fails miserably at the sexual component, but struggles with the killing component. Ok-bin Kim who plays Tae-joo is brilliant at all the changes she brings to her character, so that at times the audience feels for her and at times is repelled by her rapacious appetite.

My problem with the film is the tonal quality. Unlike Park's revenge trilogy, which includes OLDBOY, a film unabashedly over the top in tone and emotions, this film tries to stay at some realistic level. Unfortunately it occasionally ventures into that over-the-top mode and several times during the film, I found myself laughing inappropriately at what should have been serious moments. Also, many times, Park's love of cinema homage became a little blatant, cribbing scenes from such diverse movies as AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY and the Japanese ONIBABA.

But overall, I liked the film, mainly because it did grapple with some very thorny ethical and theological issues while delivering a mostly taut and suspenseful genre film.

message 9: by Phillip (last edited Aug 27, 2009 04:58PM) (new)

Phillip i find a collage effect in terms of distribution of themes, styles, tone, etc. in asian art. in japanese art in particular, which i'm more familiar, i see this trend in the cinema of directors like suzuki, teshigahara, and oshima, to name a few. it's the whole post-atomic thing, of creating art in an environment that was literally reshaped by the bomb. time, space, all aspects of consciousness can be quaked and shattered and fragmented at the drop of a hat.

not trying to explain away whatever considerations you might have about this film or others, just noting a trend that i've noticed, and my personal stab at envisioning the cultural origin of these trends. there's a fine book on japanese surrealism that a friend of mine wrote that deals with some of these problems, the book is by miriam sas, i forget the title, but can post it later...

further, i've done a lot of composing in the collage style, and i really value what it has brought to my music. i feel a real affinity for it...

message 10: by Bill (last edited Aug 28, 2009 06:30AM) (new)

Bill Rob,
Not to downplay Phillip's collage effect, I do think there is a cultural difference in terms of style and narrative story-telling that comes across very obviously in the acting of many Japanese films. Most of my experience comes from studying Japanese films, but I see similar elements in Chinese and Korean films. The theatrical styles in Asia tend to be both more stylized and heart on sleeve. In Japan this can be traced back to the very formal Noh and Kabuki plays. Every little gesture has an emotion related to it that the audience is familiar with. At the same time, when emotions are shown, they are overblown at times - if you see a man cry in a Japanese film, he doesn't just cry, he CRIES! So I believe it can take some getting used to watching Asian films, even ones that are "realistic." One of my favorite Kurosawa films is HIGH AND LOW, and I recently had several friends over to watch it. These were not serious cinephiles and after watching it and talking about it, I realized they had difficulty with some of the acting, which while very realistic by Japanese standards (and brilliant I believe), but it wasn't the Marlon Brando James Dean Stanislovsky method acting we trained to appreciate.

What all this means in relation to the over-the-top elements of THIRST, I'm not sure I remember anymore. I know I wasn't bothered by this problem in THE HOST, which I loved. (Perhaps because that didn't appear to be as serious a film as THIRST.) It would be interesting to know what Koreans think about THIRST.

message 11: by Phillip (last edited Aug 28, 2009 02:45PM) (new)

Phillip as with any international cinema, we can't really talk about japanese films with such broad strokes, but i am enjoying where this conversation is going.

there are a lot of styles in japanese cinema...some more leaning towards realism, some, as bill noted, are more influenced by noh theater and other theatrical traditions. that's why i'm so interested in seeing more and more of this kind of thing - to help better understand the traditions.

but again, we can't just lump all japanese or korean filmmakers into the same set of standards. you can't compare a realistic narrative like ozu's tokyo story with the giddy, surrealistic post-bond cinema of suzuki's branded to kill. it's like comparing the godfather bill and ted's excellent adventure. just like it would be foolish to say all american directors come from a realist perspective...

the more films we check out and the more we reach beyond our comfort zone, the more there is to appreciate out there.

i LOVE high and low...i've seen it countless times. and there is another example of really different uses of tone...compare the scene in the wealthy industrialists' mansion when the cops are bugging his phone with the final scene where toshiro confronts the killer....wow, talk about stylistic range.

and i'm also inclined to think about rashomon...there is an excellent film with wildly different acting styles, in fact, (if you haven't seen it), the film allows three different people to testify at a murder trial, and each person's depiction of the event is wildly different...a fascinating film.

message 12: by Bill (new)

Bill Phillip, we're getting a little of the Thirst topic, but I agree that RASHOMON is a great example of the acting styles in lots of Japanese cinema. (And to be a a little pedantic, it's four testimonies; the wife, the dead samurai, the thief, and the eyewitness farmer). I would like to mention one other cultural difference between Western and Asian, or at least Japanese cinema which I may have already mentioned: in the West the early filmmakers mostly came out of theater with an emphasis on acting and narrative structure; in Japan, early filmakers were mostly artist, with the empasis on the visuals.

message 13: by Phillip (new)

Phillip right you are about the four testimonials, which is al wrapped within a larger framework of storytelling...circles within circles

message 14: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Ramos O'Briant (SandraRamosOBriant) | 1 comments The Vampire Priest and his Nemesis

Vampires have historically been considered evil, but fictionally they are currently not considered 100% bad. If you add a bit of trendy perversity, perhaps even martyrdom, to the mix you might get an instant hero, or the 20th century equivalent – the antihero.

Antiheroes are the ultimate outcasts, and if they are self-loathing, that’s even better: the romantic, but evil, protagonist is born . . . or reborn. Who better to personify those attributes than the modern fictional vampire? In Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook's "Thirst" the vampire hero is a priest whose intended martyrdom gets undone by an accidental transfusion of tainted blood.

There are no Van Helsings in this story, no tortured explanations of what could possibly be wrong with Father Sang-Hyeon, no stakes, crucifixes, or fangs. He knows he’s a vampire, and he also quickly figures out the disfiguring facial blisters which continue to plague him can only be cured by a fresh infusion of blood. So vanity, and self-preservation, inspires his thirst, which leads to the bloodsucking, and as a kind of afterthought, the sex.

Nemesis was the Greek goddess of indignation against evil deeds and undeserved good fortune, and the good priest’s nemesis is introduced in the form of Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin), an innocent, possibly abused young wife. She walks and acts as if half-asleep, in a surly don’t-wake-me-up doze. She’s subservient, wounded, her lips pouting like a baby waiting to suckle. Only when Tae-ju runs barefoot in the night do we see a semblance of the quiescent strength roiling inside her like lava. The Father takes her in his arms and they take flight, hopping buildings like the superhero he is in her eyes. Who could resist such a savior? Certainly not Lois when Superman carried her aloft.

"Vampires are cuter than I thought," she says. This could have been uttered by the besotted teen in Twilight, but with this actress the action takes a decidedly adult turn. More Lilith than Eve, this isn’t about love, at least not in the beginning. She wants to consort with demons, and relishes her newfound freedom, strength, and ability to break the bonds and bounds of her marital, and human, slavery. Not since Claudia, the ancient child vampire in Interview with the Vampire have we been treated to such anger, brutality and guiltlessness. And we love her for it, as does the Father.

Hero and heroine cover their secrets . . . scarred and bruised thighs. Both are self-mutilators, his arrived at in an attempt to drive away his demon erections, and hers a deliberate attempt to manipulate the vampire into a bit of husband killing by making him believe her spouse is abusing her.

All it takes is the vampire’s blood to uncap the volcano within her.

He does not seduce like Dracula, turning virtuous Mina’s into tarts. The priest is seduced, but even then he seems more interested in biting her than in intercourse. A disconcerting slurpiness saturates the soundtrack where even kissing is treated to the same absurd sound effects as ravenous bloodsucking. This is part of the humor in the film, and pokes fun at not only the genre, but also the sexual fetishes that are part of it.

The underlying BDSM inherent in most vampire films is highly pronounced here. For me, this was relieved by the blood appearing too thin and watery, like the sweet syrup it probably is. Still, there’s plenty of it for you connoisseurs, and it’s often associated with sex.

The French title for the movie translates as the liturgically evocative "This Is My Blood." The body and blood, as well as the prayer for martyrdom recited throughout the film, (“pull out my nails, so that I may grasp nothing") strikes at the heart of this morality tale and the vampire/superhero mythos.

published at www.bloodmother.com

message 15: by Phillip (new)

Phillip well done, s! a really thoughtful reading.

message 16: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 226 comments FYI: THIRST will be released on DVD the 17th of November! It's at the top of my queue:)

message 17: by Phillip (new)

Phillip you guys haven't seen it yet?

message 18: by Phillip (new)

Phillip i'm sorry, it seemed pretty popular here and had a fairly long run, so i assumed it got good distribution...

message 19: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 226 comments THIRST never came close to Central PA:(

message 20: by Phillip (new)

Phillip agreed, it didn't have the whack of oldboy. glad you checked it out. that woman really did make the film and brought a lot of the humor.

message 21: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 226 comments I just watched the entire Vengeance Trilogy again and THIRST Friday night. I loved CYBORG but agree that it and THIRST weren't quite as good as the Trilogy. But damn was this funny: any film that "makes light" of religion is OK with me! You can check out my review on my blog but I''m afraid if I post it here, any Catholics or other Christians denominations would be offended.

message 22: by Phillip (new)

Phillip then you should definitely post it.

message 23: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 226 comments Both great movies! I'M A CYBORG BUT THAT'S OK was Park's last film before THIRST: it made my Top Ten list in 07. It's a cross between ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST and Park's insane sensibilities: funny, absurd, touching, and beautifully filmed. I own the import Blu-ray but didn't know it was never released in the US...even on DVD. Sad. If you're ever in the area Rob, come on over and we'll screen it:)

For better or worse, here's my positive review of THIRST...Christians beware.

THIRST (Park Chan-wook, 2009, South Korea) Sang-hyun has fled the flaming light of religiosity and discarded his anemic beliefs, victim of a desire that burns deep in his veins. He is a priest who tires of the vapid ritual of death, a man who wishes to help others who suffer needlessly: he trades the invisible Sacraments for physical sacrifice. He offers his body as a tool to cure the dreaded Emmanuel Virus: a tongue-in-cheek name evoking the lascivious softcore film, as the pleasures of the body will lead to his downfall. Sang-hyun suffers the torment of the damned and dies with righteous intentions but is mysteriously resurrected. He is the only survivor out of 500 patients and is anointed savior, as true believers flock to his side awaiting his healing touch. Director Park Chan-wook finally does to Catholic, Inc. what the Church has repeatedly done...rape its own congregation. Park purposely plays with the standard vampire conventions by showing Sang-hyun reflected in mirrors and not averse to the cross, but then shows him hanging like a bat, peeping into the human world of lust, searching for his own garden of Eden. The film is darkly humorous, depicting a man without faith and a woman who never acquired it, and their mutual decline into an egocentric world of violence and ever-thirsting passion. THIRST is a morality tale, as the seductive Tae-ju pretends to be abused by her husband and convinces Sang-hyun to murder him: the road to heaven is paved with bad intentions. When he learns of the deceit, he again murders but this time reanimates their affair, as she imbibes his bloody Communion. Tae-ju sees a world full of sheep to quench her appetite but a final vestige of morality still infuses Sang-hyun and he fights these urges, promising never to kill for sustenance…but he’s already a killer. The ex-Priest must extinguish this mortal craving for a flesh and blood redeemer so he molests a young girl, destroying the misplaced hope of his followers: it is both a grim and perverted scene. Tae-ju’s nihilism versus his lapsed Catholicism leads them to a lonely cliff, the ocean beating its own life affirming rhythm against the rocks, and all becomes ashes to ashes, dust to dust. (B+)

message 24: by Phillip (last edited Nov 24, 2009 06:48PM) (new)

Phillip great piece, alex! as usual my drougie displays his talent for hitting all the notes in a compact and thoughtful analysis.

message 25: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 226 comments Thank you Phillip! I didn't go into detail, like the comic sex scenes that Rob and you metioned, the corpse of the dead husband sandwiched between them with that silly grin on his pale watery face. Brilliant! This will most likely make my Top Ten for '09...but I'm biased since every one of his films since OLD BOY has made my list:)

message 26: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 226 comments I haven't seen the film because I read mediocre reviews about it. Is Park's film at least worth checking out? I just googled it and seems interesting: I see Takashi Miike too:)

message 27: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 226 comments Then I'm renting it! Thanks Rob:)

message 28: by Amy (new)

Amy | 238 comments Mod
I saw Three Extremes in an actual theater (yep, in SF) and liked it. Dumplings was definitely enjoyable - let's see, that also had the piano-wire story and the box-and-snow story, right? Piano-wire story - very strange, not really horrific to me. Box-and-snow - I was left scratching my head...

message 29: by Amy (new)

Amy | 238 comments Mod
Finally saw this - and really liked it. I haven't seen the Oldboy films (they're on my list, along with millions of others) - what I really liked about this film was the humor, the incredible sex scene, and the female character. She goes through so many permutations, and always sells it. She actually made the movie, for me.

message 30: by Phillip (last edited Feb 22, 2010 12:03AM) (new)

Phillip yeah, the humor made it for me as well. and the girl added the much needed playfulness in the film that kept it from being too somber with all that priestly existential angst. a nice balance, i think.

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