Friday, July 27, 2012

Movie Review ~ Thirst (Bakjwi)

 I recently watched the Korean film, Thirst, (Bakjwi) from 2009, written & directed by Park Chan-wook, & I was really impressed. You may recognize Mr. Park's name. He is responsible for the popular "Venegance Trilogy," writing & directing all three films: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, & Lady Vengeance, as well as one of the three segments in the film "Three ...Extremes," (the segment entitled "Cut".) These may be some of his more well-known films & perhaps even most recognizable to casual Western audiences, because of the critical praise & fan attention they garnered. I am still making my way through the "Vengeange Trilogy," having seen & enjoyed Oldboy a few years ago & I loved Three...Extremes. As I am discovering, Mr. Park, (a former film critic,) is quite a prolific screenwriter, director & producer, with a career that has already spanned over twenty years & 15 films, making him one of the most popular & acclaimed Korean filmmakers. His distinct style, sensibility, vision, taste, & choices are all obvious reasons for the aforementioned critical praise. After having only seen two of his films I can't claim to be any kind of "expert" on the man or his methods, but I was very moved by this film, "Thirst." I honestly can't stop thinking about it & I feel that some real art was made by everyone who participated in it's creation. At least I was touched & want to share my thoughts about it.

 In writing the screenplay with Jeong Seo-Gyeong, Mr. Park was inspired by the Emile Zola book "Therese Raquin," (of which I was not initially familiar with, but which involves a tragic love triangle - the "Vampire" aspect is Mr. Park's idea.) Thirst follows the devout Priest Sang-hyeon, who participates in some radical clinical trials meant to discover a cure for a deadly, disfiguring  disease & as a result is left as a vampire. Without giving too much away I will say that the film then morphs in ways that are symbolic, haunting, unexpected, sad, quirky, humorous, shocking, disgusting, even tender & romantic. There is violence, gore, a lot of blood, (of course,) & nudity, including some very realistic, yet not gratuitous depictions of lovemaking. The special effects were nicely done although not overused. (I liked the use of color & light to alter & convey mood.) It was classified as a horror movie by Netflix, where I saw it, & it is very horrific, but it is classified on as a comedy, drama & fantasy. It's a very complex tale. At it's core, for me, it's about the desire for love, escape versus required duty, sacrifice versus selfishness, guilt, forgiveness & redemption & the basic desire for happiness & how hard it is for some people to attain, no matter what terrible lengths they are willing to go to try to attain it.
 The main actress, Kim Ok-bin, who plays the desperately unhappy Tae-ju, (opposite the quietly nuanced Song Kang-ho, who plays the well-intentioned Priest,) comes into the movie rather unkempt & shabby, but really evolves before your eyes. She becomes absolutely stunningly beautiful & gives a fantastic performance. Alternately fierce & vulnerable, bored & rabid, she was completely mesmerizing. She really threw herself into the role & totally blew me away. Mr Song, (who has worked with Mr. Park in the Vengeance Trilogy & who some may recognize from the movie The Host, ) is sometimes so reserved in his delivery as to seem like he's underacting, but he is actually a very fine actor & really anchors the entire small ensemble, who are all outstanding, (including Tae-ju's sickly husband, Kang-woo & especially her overbearing Mother-in law, Lady Ra.) 

 I watched it in an odd mood one early afternoon & found it equally oddly paced at first, (but it could have just been me,) so it took me a just a few minutes to get into the groove but after I did & especially after the Tae-ju character & her family were introduced, the time started flying by, (& that says a lot since it's a longer movie at 133 minutes running time.) By the sad, strangely comic, yet almost inevitable conclusion of the film I felt as if I had been taken on such an epic ride I was in tears & I wished it hadn't ended. Highly recommended. (*Editorial Note: I have since seen the Park films Lady Vengeance & I'm a Cyborg But That's OK & they were both equally excellent.)

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