KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando reviews Thirst and speaks with its director Park Chan-Wook
Related Story: Thirst
KPBS FM Film Review: Thirst / Interview with Park Chan-wook
By Beth Accomando
Air date: August 20, 2009
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando says forget about "Twilight" and "True Blood," with their pasty vampires mooning over love. Instead go see "Thirst," a truly twisted tale of sin, redemption, and vampires from South Korea.
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(Tag:) "Thirst" opens tomorrow (Friday August 21) at Landmark's Ken Cinema. Go to Beth's blog at K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G-slash-cinema-junkie to see a video of Park Chan-Wook at Comic-Con.
In “Thirst,” a noble priest named Sang Hyeon volunteers for a medical experiment that could save thousands of lives. But Sang gets infected blood and dies…
CLIP “Time of death…”
… then he comes back as a vampire. The disease mutates in Sang’s veins and defies easy diagnosis. Similarly, the film keeps changing so that the audience is constantly left guessing where it’s going to go next. That’s exactly the kind of film Park Chan-Wook says he wanted to make.
PARK CHANWOOK: “the one that you cannot pin down, the one that you cannot easily define or one that doesn’t necessarily give satisfaction to the audience."
Park denies the audience the satisfaction of being able to predict what will happen. At his Comic-Con panel last month he explained, through a translator, what attracted him to vampires.
PARK CHAN-WOOK: “I always thought vampires were poor creatures… and there are all these restrictions for them to live by… and they have a very limited menu.”
So the priest must juggle his new set of restrictions with his old ones from the church. That’s where the film gets interesting.
PARK CHAN-WOOK: “As a priest he would have to contemplate on mystery of Christ's blood which is spilled for the redemption of the mankind and then he becomes a vampire now he is actually drinking blood for his own survival rather than the good of mankind.”
So how does a vampire with a conscience lead his life? “Thirst” uses a vampire virus as the catalyst to set a complex tale of sin and redemption in motion. The unlikely source Park cites as the basis for his film is Emile Zola's 19th century novel “Thérèse Raquin.” But the triangular relationship at the heart of that story – with its betrayals, adultery, and murder – smacks of classic film noir. When I spoke with Park after his panel, he confessed to an affection for noir but didn’t want to limit his film to one genre.
PARK CHAN-WOOK: "Apart from film noir, fundamentally this film has romance at its core. And despite being a horror and a romance it also has a lot of comic scenes as well."
Park’s genre bending leads the story to a torrid affair between Sang and Tae-joo, a young woman trapped in suffocating marriage. When Tae-joo discovers Sang’s a vampire, she reacts with glee rather than horror…
She thrills at jumping off a building with him and delights in his strength, a strength she hopes he’ll use to dispose of her bothersome husband. The vampirism becomes a moot point as the interdependent relationship between the two leads becomes the focus of our attention. And Park refuses to draw his characters in simple strokes.
PARK CHAN-WOOK: “If you think these characters are complex this is probably because in reality this is human nature… even taking people who are close to us, people who we think we know very well, if we put them in an extreme situation we might be surprised at what they might do, every human being has this potential within themselves and these can manifest themselves in a very violent way if they are pushed into a corner.”
Park pushes both audiences and his characters into a corner to see how they react. The results are once again fascinating. “Thirst” is not as tightly made as such earlier works as “Oldboy,” but it delivers such an inventive, provocative, and darkly funny spin on the vampire formula that it demands attention.
For KPBS, I’m Beth Accomando.