Thursday, October 08, 2009

THIRST - As I live and breathe, you have killed me

Full disclosure: I am a massive Park Chan-Wook fan. I love everything about him: the carefully designed visuals; the black comedy; the ultra-violence; and at the heart of it all, the concept of the innocent caught in tragic circumstances. For many, OLDBOY is their favourite movie. It's arguably got the most fucked up plot motivation, and the infamous octopus scene. For me, LADY VENGEANCE is his most visually dramatic work. The only out-and-out failure was his previous, I'M A CYBORG BUT THAT'S OKAY. Daniel Plainview and I went to say that and could barely get through it. Shorn of the violence and the wicked humour, we just had this cutesy love story among mental patients. Once the "things to make and do" production design had been wondered it, there was nothing left to do.

Park Chan-Wook's new film, THIRST, sees him take a love story, as in CYBORG, but meld it to the crazy mixed-up world of the VENGEANCE triology. SYMPATHY "old-boy" Kang-ho Song plays the classic Park Chan-Wook protagonist, a genuinely good guy caught in crazy circumstances, Priest Sang-hyeon. He's such a nice guy he plays recorder to coma victims and volunteers for a deadly medical experiment. And no, he's not in it for the suicide martyrdom kick. Problem is, he gets a transfusion with vampire blood, which helpfully kicks the nasty illness, but only if he keeps drinking blood. The central tragedy and comedy come from this situation: a good men has an instinct to fuck and kill - tragic; a vampire priest starts nicking blood from a hospital and spewing blood over his recorder - funny! And so would have developed your classic tightly structured, insane-brilliant Park Chan-Wook movie.

The problem is that Park Chan-Wook inter-weaves his vampire flick with a domestic drama inspired by Zola. The vampire priest falls for an unhappily married girl called Tae-joo, played by Ok-vin Kim. She's married to a snotty arse called Kang-Woo (another SYMPATHY regular Ha-kyun Shin) and subjugated by his hideous mother Lady Ra (Hae-sook Kim). As a classic Park Chan-Wook heroine, this weedy looking girl successfully manipulated the good priest into killing her snotty husband. Once again, both tragedy and comedy come from this. Tragedy in that the priest knows he has been manipulated, and that the girl delights in vampirism, but can't help loving the girl anyways; comedy in the way in which Park Chan-Wook depicts guilt.

THIRST contains some of the best work in Park Chan-Wook's oeuvre. The touching love scene where the priest lifts up the girl and puts her in his shoes. Or the scene where the guilty lovers fuck but the dead husband is literally between them. But I couldn't help thinking that this would have been better if Park Chan-Wook had focused on one story or the other rather than trying to cram everything into an over-long, meandering two and a half hour movie.

THIRST played Cannes 2009, where it won the Jury Prize, and was released earlier this year in South Korea, the USA, Canada, Singapore, Brazil and France. It is released in Germany, Poland and the UK on October 16th. It is released in Russia on October 29th and in Norway on December 26th.

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