Friday, October 30, 2009

Film Review : Thirst (Bakjwi) (dir Chan-wook Park)

- "So here's the deal, it's a remake of Zola's Therese Raquin, wait for it...-it's remade as a modern Korean vampire movie"
- "Nice one, Park" you can see Steve Carroll saying as he raises his eyes to his sidekick, "Look, don't call us on your Orange mobile phone...".

But amazingly, it works. Chan-wook Park's take on vampirism eschews most of the traditional baggage of the genre, adds a moral twist and some very funny bits, but somehow manages to keep the barrage of ideas under control for long enough to fashion a taught, exciting and enjoyable film, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes.

Kang-ho Song is Sang-hyeon, a priest racked with self-doubt who volunteers to test a vaccine for the Emmanuel Virus, a deeply unpleasant Ebola-like haemorragic virus. The vaccine fails, but he discovers that human blood keeps the symptoms at bay. With his recovery, he is ascribed miraculous powers by followers. At this point Zola cuts in. He is asked to cure his sickly friend Kang-woo and proceeds to join his appalling mother and beautiful wife Tae-joo for games of Mah-Jong. Needless to say, Tae-joo is not satisfied by Kang-woo's affactions and soon Sang-hyeon's priestly vows are in jeopardy (although he is unconcerned by syphoning off the blood from hospital patients in comas in order to get his regular fix).

Those familiar with Therese Raquin can see where the plot goes from here, although in Therese Raquin the protagonists don't have superhuman powers, which is just as well for their domino-playing friends. They also don't have the problems of daylight and the need for regular fixes of blood to deal with, which is where the ethical issues of how exactly one sources one's fresh human blood cut in.

Everyone is talking vampires this year. They even did a piece on the genre on Newsnight Review for goodness sake. I don't know if this is some subconscious response to the emasculation of bloodsucking capitalism over the past two years, or just the way these fashions go. From Buffy to Twilight our screens are full of blood-soaked revisionist horrors, turning their backs on Dr Van Helsing and the Hammer films of the past. This doesn't subvert the vampire genre as thoroughly as the magnificent "Let the Right One In" did earlier this year, and as a film it doesn't retain a consistent unity of tone, but it is a very enjoyable, thought-provoking if occasionally bonkers piece of filmmaking.

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