Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chan-wook Park's Thirst (2009)

Father Sang-hyun (Kang-ho Song) sits in the confessional and counsels a young nurse who is thinking of suicide after her boyfriend has dumped her. Sang-hyun tells her three things: he gives her penance, "twenty hail marys,"; seek the help of science by taking anti-depressants; and offers some friendly advice, "forget the bastard who dumped you." The nurse is a little taken aback, perhaps even resentful, that the priest has crossed some personal boundary. "Father," she says, "I'll deal with the bastards and the worldly matters. You just stick to praying, Father." These words sound loudly for Sang-hyun, and he consults his mentor, Father Noh (In-hwan Park). Sang-hyun wants to help people by volunteering for an experimental treatment and vaccine for the EV virus, which causes complete blistering of the body before death takes over. Sang-hyun feels his prayer is ineffectual, since one patient at the hospital where he visits has died and another recently entered into a coma. Sang-hyun goes for treatment, despite Father Noh's attempts to dissuade him. Sang-hyun is overcome with the virus, dies on the surgery table, and comes back to life within minutes. Despite his attempts to help humanity with science, Sang-hyun exits the treatment facility to a large crowd of on-lookers who view the man a miracle and seek his prayers and healing. Sang-hyun continues his work in the hospital, doing magic tricks and the like for the ill children, when Ms. Ra (Hae-sook Kim) humorously bangs on his window. Would "The Bandaged Saint," only survivor out of fifty treated for the EV virus, come and see her ill son? Sang-hyun meets the son, Kang-woo (Ha-kyun Shin), who remembers Sang-hyun from his childhood. Sang-hyun was an orphan. Kang-woo is married to Tae-ju (Ok-vin Kim), also an orphan. Sang-hyun is welcomed into Ms. Ra's home, and so begins his looking, longing, and living in Chan-wook Park's aptly-titled and ironic Thirst (2009).
Despite the nurse's confessional insinuation that Sang-hyun has no real knowledge of worldly matters, the priest gets a crash course on real life after becoming one of the "undead." Apparently, those blisters reappear on Sang-hyun's body, but when he consumes human blood (which he now craves), the blisters disappear. Sunlight also has a searing and blistering effect on his skin. The priest is also craving "sinful desires." Sang-hyun consults Father Noh, again, and candidly relays his dilemma. Noh doesn't see his affliction as a dilemma and freely offers his cut hand for Sang-hyun to feed. Noh views Sang-hyun's affliction as a gift and desires for Sang-hyun to share his blood with him. Noh is disabled and blind and has a simple wish. He delivers perhaps the most important line in Thirst, "I wish I could see the sunrise over the sea before I die." Sang-hyun says that is not possible for a vampire. Sang-hyun is taking his new life in a more complex direction: a little gambling with some Mah-jong, a first kiss from a Tae-ju, eventually making love to her, and falling in love. The priest's curiosity eventually leads him to murder, and then events really get worse.Thirst is not a cautionary tale about worldly transgressions, small or big; it doesn't sing the praises of science; nor does it want its viewer to seek the simple spiritual life. Thirst reveals the deficiencies in all three spheres of life: the worldly, the spiritual, and the scientific; and shows that life is not made of absolutes but human living. Sang-hyun gets to experience love with Tae-ju, but it's not perfect: she's not an idyllic damsel in distress who needs saving: Tae-ju has her own personality, attributes and flaws, both glaring. Sang-hyun devalues his spiritual work: Park cleverly distracts the viewer with Ms. Ra's humorous banging on the window, as it is shown that Sang-hyun's magic tricks are bringing joy to the ill children. Also, the intense treatment that Sang-hyun received in order to achieve a vaccine in the name of science and humanity only brought those with strong religious faith more hope and a stronger faith in God. Thirst doesn't align itself with any solution: it only reveals its characters, unique and individual, and their epiphanies. What Thirst's viewer does get to certainly experience is Chan-wook Park's most mature film to date, wonderfully dark, often both funny and intense.Kang-ho Song is one of the best actors working in Korea today. His starring role in Park's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) is a personal favorite and he gave an essential supporting role in Chang-dong Lee's little-seen and wonderful Secret Sunshine (2007). Park draws a rich character with Sang-hyun and Song commands the dramatic range. It's an excellent performance. I fell in love with Ok-vin Kim in Kyun-dong Yeo's The Accidental Gangster and the Mistaken Courtesan (2008), and it's quite obvious after her role as Tae-ju in Thirst, she is an actress to watch. Park draws an equally wonderful and rich quirky role for Kim, and she's always attractive on screen, whatever she's doing. Park's visuals, despite any criticism he might receive for his films' narratives, are always exciting. Thirst doesn't disappoint in this arena unsurprisingly. Some of the hidden beauty in the film are with his small shots, seemingly focused on just the little things. How appropriate. Buy it on DVD here.


pickleloaf said...

i love paying a visit here and getting something much deeper from a film than i typically would otherwise

great points about the three spheres of life!

Mr.LargePackage said...

Great review Hans. You forgot about the fourth sphere: the large and in charge.

Hans A. said...

Thnx Loaf for the kind words. I read your review of Thirst recently and thought it was quite good.

Mr. LP--you occupy the fourth sphere of coolness. Always large and in charge.

Neil Fulwood said...

Very good review. I missed 'Thirst' during its limited cinema release (ie. playing for a week at a local arthouse cinema), but the DVD is now definitely on my Christmas list.

Hans A. said...

Thnx, Neil. I very curious as to what you think about it. I'm also really looking forward to your Peckinpah reviews in December.