MIFF 2009 Day 02: THIRST (KOREA)

Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) time again and the opening night kicked off last night with the world premiere of Australian film, ‘Balibo’.  I am not one for opening night party thing, so I waited for the first official day of screenings to dive into the festival.

My first film was ‘THIRST’ by Korea’s Park Chan-wook who has become some what of an international star on the film festival circuit since his smash hit ‘Oldboy’ which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.  Since that time, Park’s next film has been highly anticipated by cinemaphiles around the world.  ‘Old boy’ was the second film in a trilogy of revenge films which had been preceded by ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’ (2002) and concluded with ‘Sympathy for Lady Vengeance’ (2005).  Even though ‘Old boy’ was the film to push Park’s films into the mainstream international film press his ‘JSA: Joint Security Area’ (2000) had already put his name on the radar of many film festival programmers.

Park delivered ‘I’m a Cyborg’ (2007) with little fanfare but when the rumors of Park making a vampire film it seemed to strike a cord with cinemaphiles around the globe.  The film was selected to play at Cannes Film Festival which immediately justified the keen interest and when it collected the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival the growing interest in the film has reached fever pitch.

Park seems to work his magic with characters that have became isolated from their daily surroundings and end up committing acts of violence!  THIRST follows this principal perfectly; we have disillusioned catholic priest (Hyeon) who wants to do more in life than read the last rites to dying patient at the local hospital and seeks a more spiritual assignment.  He travels to mission in Africa and agrees to be injected with virus.  Hyeon becomes injected with the virus that riddles his body with blisters and results in him dying on the operating table.  In the fight to keep him alive he is given a blood transfusion that brings him back from the dead.

The priest vampirism doesn’t immediately manifest but it’s a slow burner as he returns home.  His tale of survival has become legendary amongst the catholic faithful who camp outside his monastery hoping for the priest to heel the illness.  He returns to work at the hospital and comes across a childhood friend who is gravely ill.  Hyeon falls in love with his friend’s sad and mistreated wife (Tae-joo) while trying to manage his worsen health as his thirst for blood grows.  Hyeon satisfy the cravings by feeding on a coma patience and a blind priest who is his mentor.

As Hyeon discovers his strengths, weakness and desire for Tae-joo they are finally satisfied – the carnage commences which results in highly enjoyable and unique take on the vampire genre.  Park’s vision and style brings a timeless look to the film that doesn’t time the film to particular time.  The performance of the cast who bring to life to the characters that could easily be disliked but seemed to bring a sense of sympathy and romance to the characters that elevate the story to a brilliant film!

THIRST has been dismissed by some critics as childish and comparing it to last year’s smash hit, ‘Let the Right One In’.  Both films have breathed new life into the genre of vampires films and have managed to use the conventions of the genre but yet found new material within the genre without attempting to rewrite the accepted norms of the genre.