“Thirst” by Park Chan Movie Review

Nowadays a movie abnout vampires is nothing surprising or unusual. However, modern audience us not eager to look at spilled blood and action, rather they are looking for some intellectual filling, passion, irony, philosophy in those movies. One of the outstanding movies about vampires is Thirst by Park Chan. Generally the theme of vampires does not belong to classical horror films and to traditional presentations of the events and scenes. Park utilized his talent and the idea of vampires in his own unique way, he added a portion of profound morality to his considerations of mortality, love, humanity in general. The name of the movie is Thirst, which is in Korean Bakiwi, which could be literary translated as The Bat. Originality of the movie could be traced from the plot already. Sang-hyun, the main protagonist of the story, is a priest, who takes the decision to sacrifice himself and provides his body for testing of the vaccine for a virulent virus. He dies during this experiment and at the same time he survives thanks to bloon transfusion. There is a serious side –effect from this whole medical procedure, he is turned into a vampire. He is suffering from the symptoms of this infection, and the only way to mitigate them is constant supply of human blood. It seems that there are already enough challenges for a man, but there appears another one, he becomes seriously attracted to Tae-joo, who is the wife of his friend Kang-woo. Their marriage is far from being happy, because Kang-woo is hypochondriac and is under constant oppression of his strange mother. Tae –woo tells her lover to kill her husband because he abused her physically, Sang-hyun kills her and drinks her blood, letting her drink his blood and thus she is also turned into a vampire. A lot of other supporting characters are also killed. Finally Sang-hyun deceives his beloved Tae- joo to the sunlight and commits double suicide with her. Ms. Ra has the chance to watch with pleasure, how two murderers of her son are annihilated. On the basis of this plot summary, it is possible to conclude that Thirst is really a movie about vampires, about blood, about love, about destiny, about death, about transformation of humans, their bodies and souls. At the same time Park wanted to take his movie out of the cloves, operas, wooden stakes, which are so often present in the movies of the similar genre and have already become stereotypes of it. Neither was his intention to copy the stories about blood-sucking features from scary fables for teenagers, heroes, similar to Twilight were also avoided. “In the West, there has been this great accumulation of clichés in vampire movies,” the South Korean writer-director said by phone, speaking through an interpreter. “So just by taking these clichés out, I thought I could come up with something unique.” (Hyun-suk 2009). The protagonist of the movie is played by an outstanding Korean actor Song Kang-ho, who managed to visualize the perfect image of a sensual predator, who is on the one hand noble volunteer and on the other hand is not able to cope with his predator’s nature.

Thirst received the Jury Prize at Cannes and was inspired by the novel of the well-known French writer Emile Zola “Therese Raquin”. There is a woman, suffering in the prison of unhappy marriage and is looking for any single chance to escape, in Thirst there is a stunningly beautiful actress Kin Ok-vin embodies the image of a young woman, who is enchanted by Song’s Nosferatu. Park admitted that he adored the novel by Zola, because it “deals with love not just as a concept”, but also a kind of everyday thing, which is real, earth-bound, consisting of fleshly attraction also. (Hyun-suk 2009).  In his movie Thirst Park wanted to reveal this type of love, this side of love, which is related to vampirism and biological desires, which makes the audience believe that love is also a kind of disease.

The settings, which were chosen for the film, for transmitting the atmosphere of the main scenes, are mostly the settings of hospitals, abandoned streets, homes, which are not attractive at all. Such settings are absolutely different from mise-en-scenes of the traditional Gothic scenes from Western vampire movies on the one hand and on the other hand, they contribute to more realistic representations of the events and characters, making the episodes more alarming and profound.

It is not unexpected for a vampire movie to have the spiritual or religious context included into the whole story. Thirst has also Catholic’s subtext, which is vivid and not accidental. Park’s parents were academic and they supported the canons of Roman Catholic Church, however when the boy grew up, he started to make his own conclusions about religion and finally became convinced that there is no appropriate foundation, where to believe in the existence of God. Initially his religious views were shaped with the help of his parents, but later Park said: “if someone wanted to say that Catholicism had as great an influence on me as it had on Martin Scorsese, it would be a great exaggeration.” (Roger 2009). Mostly he was very much concentrated on such notion of Catholicism as original sin and unexpiated guilt. Isn’t it this guilt, which was so much torturing the main character of his Thirst? It is not possible to response for sure. In this movie the concepts of Catholicism and the concepts of vampirism are suggested to be taken from Western cultures and introduced into Korean culture. Irrespective of the fact that they become acknowledged there, they still continue to be foreign agents in Korean body. There is a portion of tension in Thirst, which is related to these elements, existing in a completely new environment. “Drawing a parallel, the director suggested that he infiltrates movie-making and story-telling conventions and infects them with new variations and ideas. “You could almost say I’m the germ that has entered into the genre and is messing everything up,” he said.” (Hyun-suk 2009).

Park is known for his studies of philosophy and aesthetics and this could explain his wish to penetrate deeper into metaphysical and philosophical themes and concepts. At the very beginning a lot of blood and rapid sequences made the audience compare his style to the one of Tarantino. However, upon closer examination, Park turns out to be not interested only in beautiful presentation of stylish violence, but goes much further in his considerations of eternal questions of free will, moral strength, self-restraint. Park was greatly influenced by works of Alfred Hitchcock, especially his Vertigo, which actually made Park refuse from his initial intention to become an art critic and choose a different career. Most of the masterfully created characters of Park are to find themselves in utterly difficult situations, which developed not as results of their decisions and actions, but still lead to their destruction. In order to make the audience almost physically experience the traps and barriers of his characters, Park used a lot of claustrophobic settings, which look rather like prisons. These settings could be used as means to streamline all the important ideas, which are otherwise lost in the surrounding world. Characters have restricted number of options, how to react in their situations, this makes them in a way manipulated, as their behavior is intensified. “And if that behavior often is unsettling and his characters’ circumstances are unnerving, Park suggested that’s because they’re not as unusual as we may wish to believe. He describes the imprisoned character in “Old Boy,” who doesn’t know why he’s being held or when (if ever) he’ll be released, as “a metaphor for a fundamental human condition”. “We humans don’t know why we are here,” Park said, “or when, as it were, we are going to get out of this world.” (Peirse,  Martin 2013).

Somewhere under the darkness and superficial mask, there lives sexuality in Park’s characters. Sexual relations have always been a part of human lives, they are all dependant upon them. In films about vampires, death is mixed up with love and has some subtle taste of sexuality. This is a kind of tradition and this tradition is not ignored by Park. Still it is not possible to completely predict Park’s presentations in Thirst. Most of filmmakers made their vampires bite and drain their victims, for Park this process had an absolutely different meaning, that’s why he preferred slowly process in order to make it more impressive and frightening to watch how somebody’s life is fading away and there is no way to stop the process or avoid it. The scheme of a love triangle is rather wide used and Park uses it, presenting his main characters in a love triangle, including the priest, the woman and the husband. The rest scheme is also classical, there is love, there is forbidden desire, there comes the deceit. There are not so many concrete events, constituting the plot between the beginning of the romantic relations between Sang-hyun and Tae-joo and their end. “These are anchored in recurring symmetrically centered, stationary compositions, but in between, all hell breaks loose in the form of surreal subjective interludes, bombastic imagistic montages, and of course the gory set pieces. The greatest one occurs just after Sang-hyun has broken Tae-ju’s neck: to bring her back to life, he slashes his own wrists and forces his blood into her mouth while at the same time sucking it back out through one of her wrists.” (Peirse,  Martin 2013). This is without any doubts one of the best and the brightest mis-en-scenes of the movie. Most of the similar scenes in the movie are horrifying, when the blood comes from carotid arteries, when a victim receives a stab with a pair of kitchen shears.

The whole structure of the film is rather dramatic, consisting of repeated motifs and irony. The brightest example is the fact that Sang-hyun and Tae-joo murdered her husband by drowning him in a lake and he comes back and could be seen through their water bed, when they were making love. The two main characters have different ideas about the nature of vampirism. For Sang-hyun it is next to impossible to lead predatory existence, he is forced to drink blood and he would prefer to have it freely, at least without aggression. Tae-joo is convinced that their nature should be different, they should be open to evil, as they are evil and there is no meaning in vampirism, if there is no attack, no hunt, no glory. This is evident from the phases, which she yells to him, calling him an “easy blood-drinking coward!”

To the same extent as other vampire movies, Thirst consists of numerous fantastical scenes, when vampires are moving with terrific speed, jump from the rooftops. The protagonist of the story has to cope not only with bloodlust, but also with another compulsion, which is probably even more serious and devastating for him. Some moments and scenes of the movie remind more of nightmare farce. When for example Tae-joo forgets that she should not reveal any inhuman qualities and picks up her mother-in-law, as is if she weighted nothing, then upon seeing the reaction of the guests, he puts her down and acts, as if nothing special happened. Or another situation, when the husband hears his wife saying that they are going to spend the whole night answering the questions of the police. However, these moments do not turn the whole movie into a usual vampire comedy. This film does have a lot of signs of vampire movies, including blood sucking, violence, sexual attraction, at the same time Park managed to make the audience treat the theme of vampires from a different angle. This is not simply a horror film, rather a mixture of comedy, fantasy and love story. There is a well-developed theme of moral choice and morality in general. “Primarily, this movie is an exploration of the moral struggle by the main character, Sang-hyun. As the director expressed:“You have the moral height of being this noble priest, and the moral downfall to where you become a vampire, taking others’ blood. It’s such a height to make such a fall.” (Roger 2009). Sang-hyun used to be a Catholic priest, by the way a rather devoted one. He works at a hospital and finds the best way to show his devotion, when he voluntary becomes a participant of a medical experiment, all participants of which die. But he received his life back with new ordeals, lust for blood and lust for love and sex. These moral dilemmas are torturing him till the very end of the story. The character of his beloved woman is in a way contrasted to him. She was unhappy in her marriage and liked the unexpected attention of Sang-hyun. Before she was not making any choices, she lived for the pleasure of her husband and was near her mother-in-law.  Initially she is afraid, when she realizes that she is having an affair with a vampire. Then, however, her attitude to the situation changes and starts to feel comfortable with him, when she is taken away from the everyday oppressing existence in her family. Later she wants even more, she tells Sang-hyun about physical abuse and about her idea to kill her husband. Their short dialogue about this is the reflection of their different attitudes towards the super power, inherent to vampires:

“Will this make us happy,” he asks just before their final decision.

“Of course, silly,” she replies. (Thirst).

After the murder, both lovers feel guilty, but Tae-joo seems to be not able to stop and being not able to cope with tension, she continues her bloody existence, becoming a real vampire. This dark transformation was probably the first step towards their self-destruction in the future. Sang-hyun is not able to control his beloved woman any more and the only way for him to make the whole story end is their suicide in a sunrise.

Overall, Thirst by Park Chan is one of the greatest modern movies about vampires, it has all the features of traditional vampire movies and at the same time is utterly original. Its themes are not related to love and death only, rather they penetrate much deeper, into moral self of individuals, into their philosophical inside worlds. The film has a portion of drama, a portion of comedy, a portion of fantasy, a portion of narration, the mixture of all these genres is finally turned into a great movie about existence.

Works cited:

Hyun-suk S. That Unobscure Object of Desire and Horror:in Horror to the Extreme. Hong Kong University Press, 2009

Peirse, A., Martin, D. Park Chan-wook’s Thirst: Body, guilt and exsanguination.

London: Edinburgh University Press, 2013

Roger, E.  “Thirst”. Rogerebert.suntimes.com. Chicago Sun-Times, 2009

Utichi, J. “Cannes 09: Thirst Review”. IGN UK., 2009

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"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

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"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: September 29, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: September 29, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: September 29, 2020]