Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Original Title: Bakjwi (Bat)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Writer: Jeong Seo-Gyeong, Park Chan-wook
Beloved and devoted priest from a small town volunteers for a medical experiment which fails and turns him into a vampire. Physical and psychological changes lead to his affair with a wife of his childhood friend who is repressed and tired of her mundane life. The one-time priest falls deeper in despair and depravity. As things turns for worse, he struggles to maintain whats left of his humanity.
Having recently seen this film in the theater, and not initially planning to review it (as with my review of Paranormal Activity a couple weeks ago), this review will probably differ a bit from my norm. Namely, you'll not see my always incredible, entertaining, deftly snapped screen captures, but instead some stills that I blatantly stole from other websites.
Hey, I need some sort of crutch for my writing, and images are the best way I know how without having a monkey in a tuxedo read the review to you.
Song Kang-ho plays the devoted priest Sang-hyeon mentioned in the synopsis. He is constantly called upon to issue last rites and pray for terminally ill patients in a hospital near his monastery. Sang-hyeon struggles with constantly seeing so much death, and wants to help in some other way. He volunteers for a vaccination trial in some African country for a disease which causes those inflicted to cough up blood, be covered in boils, and seemingly suffocate. No man ever lives ones infected, and Sang-hyeon is no exception as he dies a pretty gruesome death. He is given an accidental transfusion of vampire blood, however, and he is brought back to life.
This sequence sums up much of what I felt about the film. The moments leading up to Sang-hyeon's death are slow and quiet. A doctor explains to him what will most likely happen once he is infected with the virus, and then we see it happen. Park Chan-wook is very good I think in these scenes, as we cringe and feel the stress despite everything feeling so calm. There is a scene with blood pouring from Sang-hyeon's small woodwind instrument that is very jarring.
But on the flip side, despite the well handled scenes and imagery, there are story elements that feel a bit disjointed. It was difficult for me to buy the priest's motivations for taking part in this experiment which he knew would lead to his death. And I'm not sure if I missed it, but I am pretty sure that they never explain where vampire blood even came from or why this team of doctors may have had it. It made Sang-hyeon's "resurrection" feel a bit forced.
As I said, this is in a way how the entire film unfolds. There are some great scenes and some fantastic imagery, but at other times the pacing feels sluggish or just off, the story gets disjointed, and motivations are glossed over for the sake of a little more shock.
Kang-ho is solid as the priest, but at times also a bit underwhelming. I don't think this was a fault of his, but rather how the character is written. There are moments that are very interesting as the priest is dealing with his new vampirisim, but there are other times when he just "does" and it begins to seem very out of character at times. All the while, Kang-ho keeps his calm demeanor so there's not much to go on to figure out the character's intentions. I think it could have been much more interesting had Chan-wook delved much farther into the whole priest struggling with this evil aspect as opposed to focusing on his gory relationship with Tae-joo.
Tae-joo (Kim Ok-vin) ends up being a more interesting character than Priest Sang-hyeon because she starts as a frustrated young lady forced into a pretty mundane and near-abusive lifestyle, and as a result undergoes drastic changes throughout the film. Sang-hyeon knew Tae-joo as a child, and as a vampire now has trouble resisting being around her sexually. The initial moments between the two are done very awkwardly, but in a good way, as they both learn about one another as they come out of their respective shells.
I do not want to give some big plot elements about the story away, so I'm not sure how far I can take the discussion. There are definitely bright moments in this story, but at times I really just thought it dragged and it felt very long (2 hours, 13 mins) when all was said and done. There are also some humorous moments in there which creates a change of pace.
I think with some slower scenes edited down, the film could have been better, but I really believe what could have made it a great film was really focusing on how a priest would deal with becoming such an embodiment of evil. As is stands now, I see Thirst as what could have been. It's like a really awesome film wearing an average film's disguise.
I enjoyed it, but wanted it to be so much more.
I'd recommend seeing it, particularly those fans of Chan-wook's work. I did not enjoy it as much as I enjoyed his film Oldboy for instance, another slower paced film, but the images here will linger with you.
Score: 6.75 / 10