#261: Thirst (Bakjwi) (2009)

Inspired by this rather excellent article from Eat Sleep Live Film’s Garry McConnachie, I picked up Park Chan-Wook’s 2009 vampire flick. Following his quirky, Michel Gondry-like comedy I’m A Cyborg from 2006, Thirst sees the South Korean provocateur return to more sinister territory with a theatrical study of romance, melancholy and the macabre.

Do-gooding priest Sang Hyeon (Song Kang-ho) spends most of his days visiting the hospital beds of parishioners afflicted with a death deducing curse known as Emmanuel Virus. Longing to find life’s purpose, Sang selflessly volunteers to be a guinea pig at an African laboratory dedicated to finding a vaccine.

Sang suffers from blood haemorrhages and skin lesions; close to death’s door, he is resurrected by an emergency blood transfusion, but at what cost? He has become a vampire. A bloodsucking, semi-man of the cloth, Father Sang returns to the hospital he works in to give personal sermons and get access to his cannibalistic vice.

Every Dracula needs an object of desire, and that’s when the Tae-joo (Kim Ok-Bin) drops into his world. The young wife of Sang’s foster brother, he cannot resist his vampiric instincts and longing for companionship, and the pair start up an insidious, haunting and often hilarious romance

In keeping with Park’s previous work with ‘The Vengeance Trilogy’ and I’m A Cyborg, I was totally stunned when I discovered that Thirst had been made on the modest bunch of $5 million. Working so stringently, the Korean auteur manages to deliver the dirty, often crude goods with the help of his gifted cast and crew. Song & Kim make for an unlikely, yet totally capitivating double act. Then there’s the baroque score from Jo Yeong-Wook, dazzling Kubrick-esque cinematography from Chung Chung-Hoon and the grandiose production design work of Ryu Seong-Hie.

Thirst is crammed full with Cronenberg style body horror, vampiric eroticism, Grand Guignol farce and lots, and lots of blood. One nonchalant scene in particular which involves Sang, a flute, and vomiting red stuff is just about the grossest thing I’ve seen all year. But, you know, in a good way.

Indeed, if there’s a problem with Thirst, it’s perhaps that Park bites off more than he can chew. Although it’s 133 minutes may not be completely successful, it’s still ballsy, beautiful and never boring; hitting you in the heart, head and jugular.

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PS – Park’s upcoming movie, Stoker, looks equally unsettling and brilliant. See the trailer here.