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Cannes 2009: Sucking Zola (“Thirst,” Park)

Here is the ideal Park Chan-wook film: one man and one woman beat and torture one another, each one having a go until the other is so badly hurt that, in theory, the audience wants to see the victim have his or her turn, taking vengeance and beating the other until our sympathy and bloodlust shift again.  Repeat for two hours.   Park’s various revenge scenarios (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance) pretty much follow this reprehensible path, and when his new film Thirst tries to convince us of its viability by trying to make it romantic, the filmmaker’s stupidity and hollowness are all the more apparent.

The pitch that must have greenlit the film was obviously “vampires meet Zola’s Thérèse Raquin,” which makes no sense to me, as vampirism is already romantic, corrosive, and murderous enough that tacking on—as Park awkwardly does half way through—the complex plot and psychology of the Zola novel shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the very subject of the film.  With Let the Right One In barely out of theaters, reminding us of the complex otherworldly bonds and deep romanticism of vampire lore, and Coppola’s Cannes entry calling us back to the perfectly stylized genre of his Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Park’s smug, unconscionable account of supremely stylized violence for the sake of love—in a movie unable to be romantic—is vacated of everything but sadism.

I would not trust this reviewer, who seems to have some idiosyncratically preconceived notion about combing genre films with Zola. The problem with so many vampire films (and there are not a lot of good films in this genre) is that they lack the psychological depth of something like a Zola novel. So why the hell not combine the two. After all, Park Chan Wook is the ultimate postmodern filmmaker who combines high and low art forms to create something new. Old Boy took a variation on Oedipus Rex and mixed it with a pulpy manga story and created one of the best films in the past decade.
Hi Jin, No preconceived notion, I just think Thirst as a film either doesn’t need the Zola half or doesn’t need the vampire half of the movie. Both could stand on their own, and fundamentally share many of the same ideas. It was redundant to me. I didn’t go into it, but Park really skips over all the psychological depth of the situation from the Zola novel, so it loses even more of it’s thrust.
Oldboy and Lady Vengeance are incredible films, even if the “path” they follow may or may not seem reprehensible. After two such powerful films I have expected Thirst to be a letdown. We’ll see.
the Oldboy film had a refreshing story line for an action movie i hope thirst will keep the quality level
“Here is the ideal Park Chan-wook film: one man and one woman beat and torture one another, each one having a go until the other is so badly hurt that, in theory, the audience wants to see the victim have his or her turn, taking vengeance and beating the other until our sympathy and bloodlust shift again. Repeat for two hours.” That just makes me want to watch it even more.
Park Chan-wook stupid and hollow as a film maker? Daniel, what are you talking about… Firstly Park Chan-wook didn’t want this movie to be romantic, he wanted to take the romanticism out of vampirism so this statement; “Thirst tries to convince us of its viability by trying to make it romantic”, can be disgarded straight away (he says this in his press conference at Cannes. People only tend to concentrate on the Vengeance themes in his films and not on the deeper issues regarding east Asian Korean society which he touches on so brilliantly. Maybe its our American-European way of seeing things that we ignore the finer details in his films. I haven’t see Thirst, but it does not sound like it will be as good as his previous films. But I LOVED I’m a cyborg…but thats ok and all his other films minus JSA. But Park Chan-wook hollow and stupid in any degree? Never.
Jamie Mattick, I’ve seen the film and, regardless of what Park said at Cannes, it’s definitely true that he tries to render its revenge scenarios romantic.
Even I have to admit this is a somewhat harsh review from a writer I consider consummately fair. I agree with Jamie that Park Chan-wook is far from being a stupid and hollow film maker. Why the ad hominem (which only serves to weaken your argument)? There has been some allowance that the negative critical response at Cannes might have had something to do with the film being positioned late in the program when reviewers were already exhausted? Not to excuse that “Thirst” is clearly not as compelling as his previous work, and unfortunately (timing is everything) too reminiscent of HBO’s “True Blood”, thereby coming off as a Korean derivative. Still, the film is not completely without merit, and creeped me out by reminding me of the IV feeding in “Martin.”
Michael: there were a mere handful of films that I really didn’t care for in Cannes this year, and this was one of them. It was actually screened in the first 1/3 of the festival, and my dislike for the film, and the filmmaker, had nothing to do with exhaustion. The “stupidity and hollowness” comment goes towards his filmmaking, not Park personally, though I admit the wording is vague.
Hated it too. Huge Park fan, but I’m getting a little sick of this “style over substance” shtick. Fuck vampire movies (except LTROI!!!!).
JAMIE MATTICK: I don’t know where you pull that quote from, but I counter with another— ""This film was originally called “The Bat” to convey a sense of horror. After all, it is about vampires. But it is also more than that. It is about passion and a love triangle. I feel that it is unique because it is not just a thriller, and not merely a horror film, but an illicit love story as well." – Chan-Wook Park I, too, agree that stupid and hollow are a little strong. I would have probably went with “formulaic”. The guy has found his niche and is sticking to it, a little too tightly if you ask me, as every movie he’s directed (other than JSA which I found to be totally different than his later work) is made with the same gaudy formula. His biggest problem is the fact that he is unwilling to do something new. His two biggest movies to date are OLD BOY and THIRST, both of which are largely inspired by the work of someone else.
Well, when you praise a terrible film such as Let the Right One In so off handedly you really lose all credibility as a film reviewer; it’s hard for me to imagine someone who sees the ancient vampire’s parasitic cycle of exploiting humans, specifically a troubled child, in LTROI as “deep romanticism” callling anything reprehensible. I have no familiarity with the Zola text you mention but I don’t think Thirst is meant to be seen as a romance; I see it as a film about spirituality and faith. I also have no idea what’s going on with your Coppola reference.
“The “stupidity and hollowness” comment goes towards his filmmaking, not Park personally, though I admit the wording is vague.” Ha, well that doesn’t make it any better since you didn’t do much to explain how that film-making is stupid and hollow; if anything you are begging the question in addition to an ad hominem. Oh, and I don’t want to be too rude here, I am a bit surprised though since this is the first really awful review I remember seeing on this site. I guess we all have our off days.
Don’t mean to int-rude, but I don’t see any ad hominem attacks here. I read: Park’s revenge scenarios are all similarly dumb and hollow; therefore, Park-the-filmmaker is dumb and hollow. I follow. A personal attack against a person advancing an argument (for the purpose of discrediting that argument) is not the same as coming to a negative conclusion about a filmmaker based on one or several of his films. Heck, even a personal attack against a filmmaker (for the purpose of slamming his film) isn’t the same as a personal attack against a person advancing an argument. Beside the obvious difference that a film is not an argument—and films that contain arguments that have been discredited are not themselves automatically discredited—there is the idea that arguments are based on logic and logic is independent of the person using it. Films, on the other hand, are not based on logic and are decidedly not independent of the people making them. Wouldn’t auteur theory even suggest that “ad hominem” attacks are decidely useful and valid when criticizing (or praising, see: below!) films? PS: I was thinking about recent comments on Glenn Kenny’s posts, that Toronto list with Apichatpong Weerasethakul on it, and now this… Why is it so much worse to make [supposedly, sometimes] unfounded criticisms of films, filmmakers and critics than it is to give [often!] unfounded praise to films, filmmakers and critics? “Weerasethakul is a genius.” ^^ I’ve been seeing variations of this horrible “ad hominem” everywhere lately and yet I haven’t seen a single complaint! Surely, if it’s not OK to say a filmmaker is a dummy because he makes dumb films it’s just as-not-OK to say one is brilliant because he makes brilliant films. As for the films themselves, the burden of proof sure seems significantly higher for criticism than praise. Do we need to prove genius on a balance of probabilities and ineptness / disappointment / lack of genius beyond a reasonable doubt? ;)
What I got from his comment was that Park as a film-maker is dumb and hollow, therefore Thirst is dumb and hollow. It seems to me that his isn’t considering the actual merits of the film in question, he is just saying that Park always makes dumb, hollow films therefore you shouldn’t expect Thirst to be different. This is pretty much how ad hominem’s work, althought it is a little different from the classic definition you quote. I think you just highlighted one of the weaknesses of auteur theory! :)
this director has a unique vision. never seen a style like his before. i could get really critical and academic but as simply a movie it was compelling, at times moving, funny, romantic, visually stunning and at the end of it, i definitely felt like i saw something new. i definitely don’t regret watching it. you can’t deny there was an emotional voyage there, and a clear vision. it might not be in the top 10 films of all time but it’s something that will go down as a singularly creative take on a well-worn genre. obviously, this reviewer was very offended by something in the movie and feels the need to get really vitriolic about it. take a breath, relax. it might be flawed like all films in someone’s eyes but give credit where credit is due. the dumb and hollow comment just reveals your anger, not an actual point.
Daniel, completely agree with your review. Fancy empty snuff bottle.

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