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  THIRST

South Koreaís Chan-wook Park does a vampire film, and the results are every bit as crazed, shocking and unexpected as youíd expect from the writer-director of OLDBOY and SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE.

The Package
     Chan-wook Park seemed down and out by the time of THIRST, with the less-than-euphoric reception of his previous films LADY VENGEANCE (2005) and IíM A CYBORG BUT THATíS OKAY (2006). Yet THIRST (BAKJWI), partially financed and released by the Universal owned Focus Features, was extremely well received, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. It was released to a reasonable amount of success in the US in July Ď09 (and so for once a Park film turned up on US screens before everyone had seen it in import DVD form).

The Story
     Sang-hyeon is a priest who volunteers to be a guinea pig in the development of a vaccine intended to eradicate a deadly virus. But the vaccine doesnít work and Sang-hyeon ends up contracting the virus, which causes large sores to break out all over his body. Heís given a blood transfusion, but the blood is infected. We donít find out precisely how itís infected until Sang-hyeon rises from the dead with an irresistible craving to drink peoplesí vital fluids.
     People begin worshipping Sang-hyeon as if heís a God, and expect him to cure all their ills. He ends up in the household of his old buddy Kang-woo, along with the latterís mother and dissatisfied wife Tae-joo.
     Sang-hyeon and Tae-joo are immediately smitten with each other, and before long the two are getting hot and sweaty on the bathroom floor. Tae-joo is turned on by the fact that her lover is a vampire, since this gives him powers far beyond those of normal humans.
     Sang-hyeon is consumed with finding ways to satisfy his bloodlust that donít involve killing. Yet having already violated several commandments, it seems he canít help but be pulled into committing murder. His first victim is Kang-woo, the single biggest impediment to his and Tae-jooís happiness--well, that and the fact that Sang-hyeon has given Tae-joo his disease, meaning the only cure is for her is to become vampirized.
     Unfortunately Tae-joo, once bitten, doesnít share her loverís aversion to murder. She callously kills several innocent people to satisfy her thirst, and Sang-hyeon realizes the whole nightmare will have to be stopped, and soon. The problem is heís still deeply attracted to the out-of-control Tae-joo, whoís not about to be dissuaded from her newfound murderous lifestyle.

The Direction
     THIRST is a far more audience friendly offering than is standard for Chan-wook Park. Lacking are the perversely elliptical narratives and impenetrable Korean-isms of his earlier films. This new approach may be due to the demands of the filmís co-financier Universal Pictures, but Parkís signature is still in full evidence. The frank and unflinching approach to violence and overall love of sin and depravity are Park trademarks, as is the stylistic bravura.
     Things like structure and discipline have never mattered much to Park, and their lack is an annoyance in THIRSTíS early scenes. Yet as the film went on I found it very difficult not to be seduced by Parkís perverse invention and cinematic bravura. With a running time of 133 minutes the film is a tad overlong, and also somewhat uneven, but I canít say it doesnít work as the bizarre love story it is. In addition to all the erotic grotesquerie, Park incorporates elements of surrealism and dark comedy, and his undisciplined approach actually works in this respect--in Parkís anything-goes universe nothing feels out of place.
     As the vampire lovers at the filmís center, the performances of Park regular Kang-ho Song and newcomer Ok-vin Kim (in one of the most ferociously sexy turns in recent memory) are unimpeachable. The technical credits, as is standard with Park, are uniformly top notch, in a provocative film that will appall, exasperate and delight.
 

Vital Statistics

THIRST (BAKJWI)
Focus Features/CJ Entertainment

Director: Chan-wook Park
Producers: Park Chan-wook, Ahn Soo-Hyun
Screenplay: Park Cahn-wook, Jeong Seo-Gyeong
Cinematography: Chung-hoon Chung
Cast: Kang-ho Song, Ok-vin Kim, Hae-sook Kim, Ha-kyun Shin, In-hwan Park, Dal-su Oh, Young-chang Song, Mercedes Cabral, Eriq Ebouaney, Hee-jin Choi, Woo-seul-hye Hwang, Hwa-ryong Lee, Mi-ran Ra 

     

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