Korean director philosophizes in his gorey take on an old genre
By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Thirst” is a new film directed by controversial South Korean director Chan-wook Park. The film begins with a fat man wheezing in his hospital bed. Between wheezes, he explains how he once held the world’s greatest sponge cake. He longed for nothing more than a private place to devour this cake. However, he came across two hungry sisters and gave the cake to them instead.
This story sets the tone for the movie. The sick man’s Catholic priest, Sang-hyun (played by Kang-ho Song), listens to this tale of sacrifice. However, as the movie goes on, those ideals of sacrifice and giving become twisted in practice. The movie reveals how people do exceedingly bad things, though they may appear to be done for perfectly good reasons.
Because of all the pain the priest witnesses in the hospital, he abruptly leaves his post and travels to Africa.
There he volunteers for an experiment to suppress a deadly virus, which produces symptoms similar to leprosy.
Like the other volunteers who are infected with the virus, Sang-hyun’s body is covered in boils and he dies painfully. Unlike the others, he returns to life. The priest’s incarnation marks him as a modern-day saint.
The priest realizes that there are consequences for returning. He can no longer go out in day light. He cannot eat normal food. Most horribly, human blood is the only thing that will quench his thirst.
Yes, Sang-hyun has become a vampire. However, “Thirst” doesn’t progress like an average vampire film.
Director Park loves portraying bodily fluids. The movie showers down gallons of bursting boils, blood, tears, drool, and snot. This movie is definitely not for those with a weak stomach.
Sang-hyun’s morals allow him to resist his urge to kill humans. Instead, he steals blood from the hospital. Still, the vampire priest arrogantly believes that his orders come from God. Therefore, he goes looking for someone to save.
Sang-hyun runs across a woman named Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim). Tae-ju tries to live her life by trying not to cry. The director visually expresses Tae-ju’s isolation by filming her in the corner of one frame. Sang-hyun desires to bring her out of misery.
The interaction between this unlikely couple is the central piece of “Thirst,” although a few subplots hover around it. As her character emerges from suppression, her inhibited desires shock the priest.
Actor Song became famous in the United States through Joon-ho Bong’s monster film, “The Host.”
A contrast from the priest role, Song played the role of a bumbling but devoted father.
Both movies demonstrate Song’s wide range in acting abilities.
Like Song, Kim demands your attention onscreen. Her distinctive eyes can flutter in embarrassment or burn through the viewers when she stares wide-eyed.
For all of its gore, “Thirst” concentrates more on personality than Park’s previous films. His earlier work, including the popular “Oldboy” and “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” seemed preoccupied with action and testing the moviegoer’s tolerance for gore.
However, Park never loses sight of his main characters. Their warm mutual affection and disturbing mutual corruption is soundlessly intricate in this film. Find out how Park shows us that outcomes often defeat intentions.
In addition, the moral, ethical, and visual thrill rides cannot be missed. So just make sure to keep your eyes closed when the skin starts to rip. ♦
“Thirst” opens on Friday, Aug. 14 at Varsity Theatre, 4329 University Way, Seattle. Visit www.landmarktheatres.com for show times.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.