Unintentional Comedy of the Year
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ok-vin Kim
By Tom Bevis
Vampires. God damn vampires. There is no horror subgenre more convoluted and over-exposed than vampire stories. Indeed, vampire stories rarely fall into horror anymore, as the adapted media prefers to use them as a trope in forced romance as some sorry spin-off of a lonely housewife’s wet dream. Vampires: the great American trend. And now, we’re given a glimpse of the genre from over seas (far over seas, from Korea, in fact), and we see everything vampires are allowed there. Apparently, vampires are a favorite for horribly tragic unintentional absurdist comedy.
I say tragic here more as in the film itself and not the story, which was more forced and fake than tragic. The real tragedy behind the film is that the truly beautiful elements of the film – a fantastic score that marches hand-in-hand with scene and picture, a dreary and somber color scheme, immaculate camera work and lighting – would be wasted on a film as silly and unimportant as “Thirst.”
The story, while being praised as wholly original and inventive is comprised almost entirely of used up assumptions about vampire lore and old tricks that you can find in any vampire book by Stephen King or Kim Harrison. I struggled to find anything remotely interesting or daring with the story and simply couldn’t. The movie is basically about a priest (Kang-ho Song) who, through a failed medical experiment and subsequent blood transfusion, is turned into a vampire. Finding himself unable to cope with his developing bestial desires, he begins a love affair with the a friend’s wife (Ok-vin Kim) which results in murder, thin cover-ups, and vampire sex.
Yeah, sex. The main driving point behind the two central characters seems to be as simple and direct as sex. Unlike in other romances where sex represents the union between the two parties and serves as a symbol for their spiritual and emotional connection, the sex present in this film serves only as an excuse for full-frontal male nudity. The characters rarely show romantic feelings toward one another, just a veiled desire to hop back into bed. Their relationship even tends to fluctuate from hostile and competitive through most of the film. This is a clear case of mistaking sex for romance, and it should be counted among the highest sins in cinema.
The story lapses into thick absurdity at almost every turn. Scenes that are meant to seem creepy and dark become, instead, and audience laugh-riot and the effect is lost. This is perhaps forgivable at one or two instances, but because these scenes are spread throughout the entire film, it just can’t be ignored. The acting is only as good as is allowed by script and story. There is an apparent and obvious skill from all of the actors, who do their honest best with what they are given, but in the end, if you’re reading silly lines that take themselves seriously, all you are is an asshole reading silly lines and taking yourself too seriously.
So, there you have it, the main and unforgivable flaw with the film is the story. But it’s not the pinnacle of imperfection by any means. It’s obvious that director Park Chan-wook has considerable skill, as his scenes, for the most part, display expert dramatic timing and flow quite well. This isn’t to say that the film shouldn’t have been cut down by forty minutes or so, because it should have. Nor is it to say that the film doesn’t have a lot of annoying fake endings. Because it does. It’s simply to say that the timing and relative pace worked almost perfectly.
The visuals of the film, too, are expertly crafted. Each set is perfectly colored, lit, and angled to create a film that, aesthetically, is beautiful and, at some key points, stunning. Simply put, the talent is present, there’s no question about that. The failure of the film is more-so a matter of how to use the resources present. While other critics are hailing “Thirst” as the directors most mature work, my money says he still has a bit of growing up to do, and I shudder to imagine his earlier work if this takes the prize in maturity.
Now, as I have done before and will have to undoubtedly do again, there is a disclaimer that goes along with this review. I’m not an expert by any means in foreign cinema. I watch it only occasionally and when the situation calls for it, leaving me relatively unexposed. What I do know, though, is American cinema and horror. And I know for a foreign film to succeed in America, the filmmakers have to have an understanding of American film.
Guillermo del Torro, for instance, used his knowledge of American film to produce two films that succeed not only in their native countries, but in America as well. I’m referring, of course, to “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Even the guys behind Korea’s own “The Host” understood this, and therefore made an immensely successful picture. All I can say is unlike these pictures, “Thirst” fails to clear the cultural gap.