Thirst (2009): It’s In the Blood

There are a lot of people who watched this film simply because it’s by the iconic, cult favourite, South Korean director/auteur – Chan-wook Park. Chan-wook, who also co-wrote the screenplay with  Seo-Gyeong Jeon which is based on the book Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola, has not disappointed us with his version of a vampire tale.

This is completely unlike any of his ‘trilogy’ films. Of course each of the trilogy films were very different from each other. They all had a “similar” theme, but, visually they were very unalike. Park has, with Thirst, gone completely outside his comfort zone and brought us a masterpiece in the guise of Grand Guignol Theatre.

Starring Kang-ho Song and Ok-bin Kim, Thirst is a love story, horror film, thriller, comedy and a tragedy. I never realised that it was possible to cram so many genres into a single film and more importantly still be able to pull it off. Chan-wook Park has not only managed to pull it off, but he has also, once again, made a film that really is genre-less.

Kang-ho Song plays Father Sang-hyun. He volunteers at a local hospital. He ministers the sick and dying patients, and he provides absolution when they die. He also takes confessions from the staff. But this job is taking a toll on his mental well being. He suffers secretly from depression and doubt about his profession.

He volunteers to become part of an ongoing medical experiment. A medical team is battling to find a cure for a virus known as the  Emmanuel Virus (EV). It affects only Caucasian and Asian men and it is almost always fatal. Sang-hyun allows himself to be injected with an experimental vaccine. When he starts to ‘bleed-out’ he receives a blood transfusion that turns him into a vampire.

He checks himself out of the experimental facility to find that he has been transformed in the public’s eyes as a ‘healer.’

He bumps into a childhood friend and gets an invite to join their Wednesday night mah-jong game. When he attends he gets re-acquainted with his friend’s adopted sister, who is now his wife. It turns out that all three spent a good part of their childhood together. The sister/wife, Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim) is drawn to Sang-hyun, just like she was drawn to him when they were children.

And so begins their ‘forbidden’ love affair. An affair that will escalate to murder and an almost complete surrender to their passion. It is the first mainstream  South Korean film to feature full-frontal adult male nudity, although not the first commercial film to do so. Made on a budget of five million dollars it can boast a gross revenue of well over thirteen million dollars.

I was completely engrossed in the film from the very first frame. I had no idea where the film was going and at no point could I second guess how it would end.

I suppose that is could be classed as an erotic thriller set in a fantasy. But as I said before I believe it cannot be put in any genre and that is what we have come to expect from Chan-wook Park.

English: Park Chan-wook at the 2009 Cannes Fil...
English: Park Chan-wook at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Remake Train: Oldboy

Cover of "Oldboy"
Cover of Oldboy

I have just read that Spike Lee is re-making Oldboy. To say I’m angy and dismayed is the understatement of the century. I am not too surprised as there is apparently some sort of loophole in the Korean film system where the owners/creators of a Korean film have no rights. Anyone can take their film lock, stock and barrel and remake it.  This is the second time (that I’m aware of) where Hollywood has decided to take advantage of this copyright loophole.

 

 

 

English: Spike Lee at the Vanity Fair kickoff ...

 

 

The first time was with the brilliant Tale Of Two Sisters, Jee-woon Kim’s masterpiece. This film was a skilful blend of supernatural horror and psychological thriller. It was butchered beyond all recognition by Hollywood in the re-make titled The Uninvited. It beggars belief that Hollywood can see the merit of the original film and then re-make it so badly that it is nigh-on unrecognisable upon completion.

 

DVD cover of the Vengeance Trilogy
DVD cover of the Vengeance Trilogy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now Hollywood has it’s sights firmly set on Oldboy.  Oldboy was part of Chan-wook Park’s ”vengeance” trilogy. The first of which was Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. The last of the trilogy was Lady Vengeance. Oldboy was sandwiched firmly in the middle. That Park is a master craftsman is undeniable. When you watch these films you feel overwhelmed by the imagery and the intricacy of the plots. Of course Min-sik Choi features in two of the films.  He is the star of Oldboy, the villain in Lady Vengeance and is suitably different in each role.

 

English: Korean actor Choi Min-sik presents th...
English: Korean actor Choi Min-sik presents the film Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells at 44th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I dearly love all three films, although Sympathy for Mr Vengeance always depresses me no end when I watch it. The point is all three films have so much in common. I’m not talking about plot here. I’m talking about the amount of care that Park takes in the crafting of each film.  In Oldboy for example, look at the clothes the three main protagonists wear. Each of the characters wear certain colours and patterns that tell you, who they are and how they fit into the film. The set designs have been developed the same way. I could go on for hours about the amount of effort that Asian film makers put into their films, but I think it would start to sound a bit like ranting.

 

I think that Asian cinema has some of the most talented directors in the world  at the moment. Asian directors usually write the screen plays of the films they direct and in some cases produce them as well. If ever the phrase of  ”director as auteur” applied to anyone, it applies to Asian directors. For Hollywood to re-make the work of these masters without asking permission, or (most disturbingly) without conferring with them on the process of the re-make itself is criminal. At the very least it is a little nuts. The very fact that the original films were so successful almost mandates an invitation for original creators to be involved.

 

There is no denying that Hollywood is on the “Remake Train.”  They aren’t just remaking World Cinema’s great films, they’re remaking much loved Hollywood films as well. True Grit was released earlier this year. And a list of further re-makes that are upcoming is long and upsetting.  One of the latest is The Wild Bunch which is under going talks to be directed by Tony Scott. It is disturbing to think that the well of talent is so dry in Hollywood that they’ve had to resort to remaking other peoples classic/iconic films to turn a profit.

 

The Wild Bunch
The Wild Bunch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I think it’s safe to say that Hollywood is no longer the “Dream Factory,” they are now the“Remake Factory.”