Friday, August 21, 2009

260) Thirst (2009)

260) Thirst (2009) Dir: Park Chan-wook Date Released: July 2009 Date Seen: August 20, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

As an ardent admirer of director Park Chan-wook's tendency to put his heart on his sleeve by fixating on otherwise minor aesthetic details,* I have to say, Thirst is a bit of a disappointment. It's the first one of his films where I understood why his detractors dismiss him for what they perceive to be pop insensitivity thanks to his boisterous, micro-level storytelling. As a story of seduction, Thirst's meaning is almost entirely invested in Park's typically ornate visual cues, but unlike most of his other films, it never really develops beyond them. 

In a nutshell: when Father Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) turns into a vampire after he's infused with tainted blood, he reluctantly transforms from a selfless martyr into a hedonist. Conversely, Tae-ju (Kim Ok-Vin), the object of his affection, changes from a masochist into a sadist. Park unfortunately gets so wrapped up in deferring to the skeletal structure of Emil Zola's source novel, Therese Raquin, that he never evolves the characters' beyond those types. Instead, he's far more invested in unfolding, in its own belabored time, a convoluted and emotionally barren plot through which the characters' morals are tested and, not surprisingly, found wanting. 

Park spends too much time is spent in moving from point to point in the film and never really settles on a metaphor long enough to develop it, a recurring fixation of his. Lately, he's more interested in creating a stream of imagery than in a consistently developed thread, which, here, is just a smidge more frustrating than in Lady Vengeance because of how much more purposeful its plot was.

This is not to say that there aren't flourishes of inspired storytelling or ideawork in Thirst but they mostly come from moments where Park is clearly just messing around, like in the various scenes where Sang-hyeon is still figuring his powers out. Scenes where Park's characteristic black humor dominates the film's confrontations usually reap the most rewards, as in the slapstick routine with the car's trunk at the end. Their emotional payload is immediate unlike the rest of the film's pivotal confrontations, whose significance is almost always overwhelmed by the restless motion of Park's over-wrought story arc.** 

*This especially applies to Park's last film, I'm a Cyborg But That's Ok. It was nothing but heaps of directionless details that established the characters' fractured emotional state-of-mind through ever-changing visual metaphors. It had zero urgency but was nevertheless lovely because it showed a sympathy for the film's protagonists that made it much both affecting and pretty.

**Very curious now to read the original Zola novel this is based on. I tend to think that the film's main problem for me is that it does not divert enough from that original story's template.

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