Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bakjwi (Thirst) (2009)

I think I've been waiting forever to talk about this (I had to get through my crazy backlog of movies first). It's been playing itself over in my head since last week, having struck some unknown chord that hasn't ceased to resonate. In Thirst, Catholic priest Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) feels dejected and helpless spending his days reading hospitable patients their last rites, and decides to partake in a dangerous experiment hoping to produce a vaccine to cure a deadly virus. He is the only test subject to survive, due to unknowingly receiving a pack of vampire's blood that fends off the disease. Hailed for his perceived blessed and restorative powers, Sang-hyeon is consistently called to pray for other invalids.

He gradually realizes what's happened to him as he develops a serious taste for blood and an awakening of sexual feelings, specifically towards Tae-joo (Kim Ok-bin), the seemingly timid wife of his childhood friend Kang-woo (Shin Ha-kyun). If he doesn't drink blood, the virus resurfaces, so he finds himself forced to give in to his desires for the sake of self-preservation. He becomes more and more in touch with his vampiric side after beginning a torrid affair with Tae-joo, who accepts his secret with both fear and attraction. Eventually they plot to kill her husband as an escape from the controlling clutches of his mother, but this drastic step leads to graver consequences and deeper sins instead of happily ever after.

God this movie is so good. Like, shockingly good. The concept is great and the execution is spectacular. The levels of obsession, desire, resistance, and aggression escalate gradually until the end result bears no resemblance to the beginning. Nothing prepared me for where the plot could go, and it ended perfectly. It is rather lengthy, which is apparent at the midway point which feels like the climax. However I didn't mind the long running time because it is never boring or dragging, and very deliberately and effectively organized. The visuals are raw and beautifully shot, and provoke a very visceral reaction (in me, at least- I was a bit too squeamish for the more gruesome parts). Also parts of it are maaaad sexy.

Song Kang-ho is totally my new favorite actor just for his performance here (though The Host solidified it). He's versatile and expressive, skillfully moving from soft-spoken and gentle priest to unwillingly violent vampire. He's so perfect in the role it's a little scary. I liked Kim Ok-bin as well: she oscillates between stages of ruthlessness, victimization, and compassion with a remarkable ability to make me feel for her either way. The Kang-woo character is a little too silly, but I still appreciated Shin Ha-kyun's over the top facial expressions.

Thirst is horrifying not so much as a film itself, but in its premise. The idea that a man of such strong beliefs can find himself completely, unrecognizably twisted after a random happenstance is pretty scary. So too is the fact that a subdued, put-upon young woman could develop a sudden unforgiving bloodlust. It's a really affecting film, staying with me long after I left the theatre. It's not perfect, but pretty darned close. My resolve to finally see Oldboy has been renewed, while I also hope to see all of Song Kang-ho's performances.

4.5/5 (more like 4.7)

PS I'm a little obsessed with this poster. I think I'll buy it.