Sunday, May 5, 2013


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Chan-Wook Park's Thirst is a dark, dark comedy and a splendidly violent thriller. ★★1/2Catholic priest Sang-hyeon works at a hospital, giving last rites to dying patients. After he contracts a mysterious, leper-like disease called the Emmanuel Virus (EV), he is treated with vampire blood, which contains auto-immune, self-healing properties. This treatment brings him saintly celebrity, a spotlight from which he seeks shadow, simultaneously developing an aversion to sunlight. Shy and confused, Sang-hyeon begins an ominous transformation into a stylized Western stereotype of the vampire.

Chan-Wook delivers his transformation slowly: Sang-hyeon discovers a thirst for blood, drinks from a comatose patient's IV tube, licks his blood-painted hands after giving last rites, and awakens to lust for his game-night host Kang-woo's wife, the scraggly, coy Tae-ju. The priest and wife take up nightly, savage trysts in the back room of Tae-ju and Kang-woo's house.

Sang-hyeon, played by the able and understated Kang-ho Song, is horrified by his sinful transformation, resorting to self-flagellation, a violence that transcends self-harm and leads to guilt-ridden, blood lust. Tae-ju becomes his willing partner in crime, culminating in a beautiful, violent scene between the two in a hinterland near cliffs overlooking the sea.

The Korean director crafts a plot loosely based on a novel by Émile Zola. It is jam-packed with themes of religion, lust, guilt, love, death, sin, horror--all of the essential ruminations found in film, though not usually all in one. Thirst is uneven given its roll call of themes. I felt jerked around by Sang-hyeon's internal dialogue and self-deprecation. However, subtle allusions to religion are Chan-Wook's most interesting tributes. Emmanuel is Hebrew for "God is with us," an ironic connotation for Sang-hyeon's disease whose cure requires the blood of the least God-like creature of lore--the impetus for the main character's disturbing and hilarious besmirching of priesthood.

Thirst is, more than anything, a mixed bag of thematic psychoses. It is at times a vampire tale, but also a love story; sometimes horror porn, other times a meditation on deadly sins in the presence of Sang-hyeon's God. This is not to say Thirst doesn't achieve an effect--it actually achieves many, though maybe too many. Chan-Wook Park has an irreproachable talent for conjuring the blackest of humor, a natural side-effect of his characters' circus of self-imposed horrors. It is most likely the height of his auteurist trinity of lingering shadows, gore and blood, and comedy. Chan-Wook Park himself called Thirst not only a horror/thriller, but an "illicit love story," an apt description of a film that tackles a patchwork of moods and themes, but feels more like a mild success of intentions.

About the Author

Ian Tilman Nichols

Author & Editor

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  1. But if you want a better one, you need to watch Chan-Wook Park's "OldBoy"

    Easily one of my fave movies of all time.



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