I’ve been trying for weeks now to write a review of Park Chan-Wook’s new movie, “Thirst” in a way that brings all its parts into unity, makes sense of its images, its themes, its style, its movement and its morality. I give up. This is a holy mess of a film, bloody, sensational, over the top, ridiculous, fascinating, intense, confusing, edgy, ponderous…
Heck, I can’t even decide if it’s a good movie. Parts of it are. But it goes in a dozen different directions, and there are certainly parts I could do without. The long, sweaty sex scenes, for instance. Did we really need those?
Song Kang-Ho plays a devout priest who volunteers for a dangerous medical experiment that kills him. Sort of. Except he receives a tainted blood transfusion — tainted by vampire’s blood – and finds himself not only very much alive, but a Lazarus, worshipped by religious kooks who are pretty sure he can heal them with a touch or a glance. To make things more complicated, sometimes he can. To make things even more complicated… well, there’s the whole vampire thing.
Now doesn’t that sound like sufficient plot and thematic material for a film? But we’re just getting started. Along with his thirst for blood, Kang-Ho finds himself hungry as well – for his childhood friend’s wife. One of the weaknesses of “Thirst,” and most of Park’s work, is that nothing is ever half-bad. Everything is comically bad. Our heroine has been forced into marriage to a whiny hypochondriac mama’s boy, to whom she is no more than a servant and sex slave. In one of “Thirst’s” many ridiculously over-the-top scenes, he farts, and the mother sniffs it to diagnose his ailment. Gross. She gets up in the middle of the night and sprints out her frustration, barefoot and nightgowned. Anyone in their right mind would want out of this situation. Why she doesn’t just leave is unfathomable. Instead, she convinces her vampire-priest-lover to help her kill him. Oy.
And everything after that feels like a fascinating, feverish dream. A lot of it is stylishly, memorably filmed; hardly any of it is believable, but this is a vampire film, after all. And while it begins in tone a lot like “Let the Right One In,” (last year’s best vampire movie,) making us think the director is going to use horror movie conventions to explore deeper issues like faith, loneliness, and dependency, it swings wider and wider away from that center with each revolution, until by the end, it has become a careening mess of a movie, swallowing everything in its path. It’s hard to know just what to think of “Thirst,” but if arthouse vampire flicks are up your alley, it’s certainly worth seeing.