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Review: Thirst

The film is essentially a giallo fanboy’s interpretation of Emile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, maybe even George Stevens’s A Place in the Sun.

Photo: Focus Features

Kindred obsessive-compulsives, Quentin Tarantino and Park Chan-wook are purveyors of flamboyantly slick—often sick—images whose deliberately pandering and obnoxiously self-conscious tendencies illuminate little beyond the filmmakers’ need for validation. Park, a lapsed Catholic, worked out his views on retribution throughout his contemptible “Vengeance” trilogy, and the explicit focus of his discordant new film, Thirst, is the nature of faith. Essentially a giallo fanboy’s interpretation of Emile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, maybe even George Stevens’s A Place in the Sun, the film tells the story of a priest, Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho), who becomes a vampire after surviving an arguably failed medical experiment, subsequently beginning a torrid affair with the oppressed wife, Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin), of a childhood friend. It’s a miracle that much is clear given the lurching plot, with Park placing less emphasis on character—like Sang-hyeon’s motivations for sacrificing his life—than capturing the mesmeric way the shadow of a tree falls on a hospital wall. This is artifice for artifice’s sake, infuriatingly meaningless and dotted with bad jokes and thoughtless jabs at the wants of the faithful, though the film, like Sang-hyeon, experiences a kind of resurrection once Tae-ju is initiated into the world of the undead, so to speak. For surviving death, Sang-hyeon earns himself a cult, and though his struggles with guilt after having killed to satiate his bloodlust are cartoonishly simplified (his smirky defiling of his followers’ trust goes against the empathy he obviously possesses), Park notably resists the urge to make Tae-ju subservient to Sang-hyeon after her transformation. Powerless in her human vessel, she uses him to attain a sense of agency and state of consciousness that’s matched in its histrionic mode of expression by the wild flights of aesthetic delirium Chan-wook orchestrates. From the sweltering, acrobatic sex to the bone-crunching suckings and slayings, Tae-ju’s angrily orchestrated mayhem rhymes perfectly with Chan-wook’s voracious style—both existing primarily for their makers’ pleasure—and as a result Thirst at once attains the logic and poignancy it had until now fought so vigilantly to resist.

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Ok-vin, Kim Hae-sook, Shin Ha-kyun, Park In-hwan, Oh Dal-soo, Song Young-chang Director: Park Chan-wook Screenwriter: Park Chan-wook, Jeong Seo-gyeong Distributor: Focus Features Running Time: 144 min Rating: R Year: 2009 Buy: Video

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