Cannes 2009 Review: Park Chan-wook's Thirst
by Alex Billington
May 14, 2009
Let's make it clear that before I start this, I am indeed a fan of Park Chan-wook and his past films, specifically the Vengeance trilogy. For his latest film, Chan-wook has decided to explore the vampire "genre," or at least explore the idea of vampirism. And considering it is Chan-wook, that means we're going to see something much crazier than we would otherwise ever expect, and that is indeed the case with Thirst. Officially, it was the third film I watched here at Cannes, and besides Pixar's Up, it's the best live-action film I've seen so far (that also includes Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro, which was only okay).
Thirst is no Oldboy, nor is it Sympathy for Lady Vengeance - no, it's not that great, but it's still good. The film doesn't rely on any vampire conventions one might expect. Sang-hyun (played by Song Kang-ho) doesn't immediately emerge hungry for blood, gnawing at every neck he gets his hands on. Obviously as it progresses, we notice that he has a taste for blood, and in one comical scene, he finally gets his first drop and never turns back. It's a not-so-subtle look at the intriguing idea of vampire "cells" beating out a deadly virus that Sang-hyun has, making it a disease, where he must to drink blood to survive from the virus.
Where Thirst begins to fall apart is around the midway point, when things get really goofy. All along, Sang-hyun has been sleeping with a young girl named Tae-ju, who is already married, but no-so-happily. Out of nowhere, everyone goes crazy, Sang-hyun kills for the first time (something which he's been trying not to do since he used to be a priest), and the girl's mom ends up a vegetable, without any explanation. Eventually Sang-hyun and Tae-ju lock themselves in her house, paint it white, and spend nights fending off psychotic hallucinations of a dead friend. Things do get a little better near the end, but not much.
I know that Chan-wook likes to take things to the extreme, to the point where the audience is either laughing or so shocked they don't know how to respond, but in Thirst he either never went far enough, or went so far it was way too wild for my tastes. However, that's not to say that Thirst still doesn't have all of the other great Chan-wook attributes - great acting, beautiful cinematography, a superb score, and some great vampire-related "stunts." And I'd certainly take Thirst any day over the other more mainstream vampire fare these days (like with a character named Edward). But it's not Chan-wook's next classic.
Cannes Rating: 7 out of 10