In recent times supernatural/mythological beings have infested the public's consciousness. Studly werewolves and sparkling vampires have flickered past our eyes in various formats and flavours, over-sexualised pulp fiction that has sandblasted the original terror in favour of teenage wet dreams and candy-coated characters. Park Chan-wook's "Thirst", however, is not a combobulation of kitsch clichés or pop cultural pleasures, but a compelling examination into psychosexual desire, body horror, and blood-lots and lots of blood.
Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) is an altruistic priest, a self-sacrificing servant of God who dedicates himself to those in need. He wants to save lives, but after a patient/follower of his falls into a deep coma he volunteers for a risky experiment involving a deadly (and racially picky) virus called EV (the "Emmanuel Virus"). He is one of fifty and, miraculously, he survives the oozy welts, flaky fingernails, and bloody barfs to return to his priestly post alive(ish).
Word soon gets out of his improbable survival, and the devout and desperate flock bear witness to this 're-born' saviour/survivor in the hopes that his divine touch and prays will abolish their afflictions. Sang-hyeon, being the soft soul that he is, is sceptical of his own abilities, but agrees to see a childhood friend in need and soon gets invited to the family's home. There, between a few rounds of mah-jong, he finds Tae-joo (Kim Ok-bin), the wife of his friend, and immediately witnesses the cruelty she has to endure under their roof.
Driven by his inherent desire to save, Sang-hyeon starts paying more attention to the troubled girl and does what he can for her within his virtuous vows. However, the undesirable effects of the experiment start to make unholy demands on his being, leaving our priest bloodthirsty and pumping with primal desires that challenge his views, sense of self, and eating habits. A shameful series of sinful events follows, and soon our vampiric vicar has more on his plate/mind than blood breakfasts and lusty liaisons.
"Thirst" is a highly charged and complex event. Park's unconventional, graphic, and sexual depiction of folkloric fury is thick and absorbing. Sex, religion, socio-cultural invasions are just some of immediate themes festering within this morbid masterpiece of morality under pressure. Body horror and consciousness are also fascinatingly ruminated over through crippled, comatosed, and desperate characters that add heavenly weight to Sang-hyeon's spiritual dissonance.
Park's mature mindings of blood and the bite are cinematic and crisp, a horrific homage to tragedy, desire, and bloodily fluids. Those who have seen Park's atypical comedy drama "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK" (2006) will note the similarity of themes and, more interestingly, the manner in which the two films conclude. The lurid mental asylum in "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK" may seem far from the shadowy streets of "Thirst", but Park's examination of the body, mind, and soul are magnificent motifs to be found in his 'post-vengeance trilogy' work. "Thirst" is a refreshing and bloody slap; another unique entry into Korea's film archive that delightfully deviates from the main vein of both Korean cinema and the vexing vampire carnival pop culture is currently gnawing on. There will be blood.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from YESASIA and Amazon
[HanCinema's Image Gallery] Park Chan-wook's "Thirst"
A selection of shots from Park Chan-wook's "Thirst"… After Park Chan-wook's internationall,...More
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