Thursday, February 11, 2016

Women in Horror: Thirst

* spoilers*

A caring Catholic priest name Sang-hyun wants to save people instead of merely praying for them, so he opts to be part of an experiment with a deadly virus in Africa. He is the sole survivor of 500 volunteers. Unfortunately the symptoms of the disease return unless he consumes blood on a regular basis. He returns home to attempt to resume his regular life as a priest, but he finds the world unbearable with its deafening sounds, sickening smells, and the temptation to do evil. He meets Tae-ju, a deeply unhappy woman living basically as a servant for her comically disgusting husband and his horrible mother. Sang-hyun and Tae-ju fall at the very least in lust and continue their affair in public places where they could be caught by anyone. How long can Sang-hyun go without killing Tae-ju's horrible husband or anyone else for that matter?

This is my least favorite Chan Wook Park film. It starts out well and is pretty unique with great cinematography and makeup effects. Sang-hyun seems so nice (like they all do) at the beginning of the film. He finds prayers just don't satisfy his need to help people, so he goes to Africa for an experiment with a deadly virus that affects almost exclusively young, single foreign men. Although he is the only survivor of 500 people, he was pronounced dead on the operating table until he gained consciousness after being given a transfusion. He returns home, only to find that he's revered as the Bandaged Saint. Acolytes follow him everywhere, begging him to cure their sick loved ones and pray for them. The effects of the disease return as well as new symptoms like being burned by the sun until he gives in to his urges and drinks blood. The symptoms disappear, Sang-hyun is just the nicest guy who ever lived until he meets Tae-ju.

Tae-ju is the most interesting character in the film to me. She seems young and miserable when we first meet her at the hospital, where she and her mother-in-law are hovering over her sick husband. It becomes quickly apparent that she's basically a servant in her household to her comically childish and disgusting husband and his overbearing, at times abusive mother. During the day, she shuffles like a zombie through her life, caring for her husband no matter how rude he is and complying with every demand his mother can think of. The only time she's truly free is when her husband is asleep. She plays at hurting him, but knows that she would have nothing without him and his family. She has no other family or job or friends outside of that family. At night, she runs barefoot through the streets just to feel free for a few hours. As an atheist, her entire existence is now and its being wasted. Then Sang-hyun comes into her life. With him, she finally has some sort of freedom, happiness, and sexual satisfaction. When she discovers his vampiric nature, he becomes abusive and doesn't hide his power anymore. I truly felt for Tae-ju because her whole life has been acting as a servant and enduring abuse from verbal to physical day in and day out which is destined to continue with Sang-hyun. Although Sang-hyun scares her, she latches on to her only way out of her situation.

 Now the "nice guy" shows his true colors. Sang-hyun is one of the most abusive protagonists I have ever seen. When Tae-ju discovers his true nature, he forces his presence on her when she obviously doesn't want him there and he tries to take her away against her will. He also cites his vampirism as the only reason he wanted to have sex with her or kill anyone or do any other sinful thing. (Yeah, right.) After some planning, he kills her husband because of assumed abuse. In between the two events, he bites her a couple times and lifted her by the throat when she got in his way. When he finds out that her husband was never abusive, he beats her, throws her around the room, and then breaks her neck in the midst of strangling the life out of her in a drawn out and disturbing scene. Even after this minutes long violent episode, Sang-hyun is suddenly filled with remorse and turns her into a vampire against her will. This guy has solid decision making skills. How can I root for a guy who is so incredibly abusive to the woman he supposedly loves and then makes the worst decisions ever? Tae-ju isn't a perfect person and did manipulate Sang-hyun into getting rid of her husband, but I find her much more understandable. This opportunity was probably the only one she would see in her lifetime to escape her awful family and her joyless life. Sang-hyun is simply an overpowered abuser who looks for excuses to justify his abuse.

So now Tae-ju is a vampire after almost being killed by her lover. She reacts in the most unnatural way possible and seems incredibly happy. I expect her to be happy to have more power than she's ever imagined, but why is she happy to be with the guy who came so close to killing her? There are women who return to their abusers over and over, but keeping her character in mind, I would have expected her to just leave with her new powers. Look at how she felt about her own. Anyway, Tae-ju doesn't have the qualms about killing humans that Sang-hyun does and doesn't hesitate to go out and kill some people. He then predictably abuses her even more savagely to express his disagreement: bashes her head against a wall and drops her off a building. At least this time, Tae-ju can fight back, but it's still baffling why she would stay with such a person when a whole world is out there. When she becomes sick with the virus, he leads a doctor to her, but mopes in the basement while she eats. One day, they are playing a game like usual with their friends and her now invalid mother-in-law reveals in a unique way that Sang-hyun and Tae-ju killed her son. A predictable bloodbath ensues and that's the arbitrary limit for Sang-hyun. He saves one of the victims, then acts like he's going to rape one of his acolytes. I guess this is to save them from falsely worshiping him after his death, but how is that in any way good when he literally assaulted a woman naked and sacrificed her mental and physical wellbeing for it.

The film ends with Sang-hyun driving Tae-ju to the beach with no cover just before sunrise. She fights like hell to survive, but he takes away every means of survival. Sang-hyun really just wanted a mate that was his ideal, but she was never his ideal. He, like so many men, wanted someone to agree completely with him and do whatever he wanted, which really isn't so much a person as a puppet. I think the intention of the film was to illustrate how evil, godless Tae-ju corrupted saintly Sang-hyun with her feminine wiles that led to their self destructive end. Even the cover art has her as the perpetrator of violence, not the victim of it as she actually is in the film. I see it differently. Sang-hyun epitomizes the nice guy that is quick to call a women names, harass her, or even kill her after being rejected. He was not nice in the first place if he can somehow justify abusing his supposed lover for the majority of the film. Tae-ju is simply a person trying to survive in the best way she can. She's not perfect. Her manipulation and lies don't make her a good person, but she isn't near as monstrous as Sang-hyun. No amount of lies or manipulation will justify the violence against her.

Thirst has a whole slew of other problems besides demonizing Tae-ju and putting Sang-hyun on a nice guy pedestal. Many scenes are weirdly silly like the scene where Sang-hyun and Tae-ju try to have sex with the murdered husband full of water with a boulder on his lap literally between them. It just doesn't match the serious tone of the rest of the film. Pretty much all the characters outside of the main two are flat caricatures. I don't care about them and I can't even remember their names. The CGI of the vampire powers is pretty cheesy and also brings the film down. The only saving graces of the film are Kim Ok-Bin as Tae-ju, the cinematography, and the music. Kim Ok-bin is amazing. She manages to take this character and make her believable even through her mercurial tempers. I especially love her slightly crazed smile when she no longer has to hide her vampirism and she's about to strike. The cinematography is so gorgeous at times, playing with light and dark with red, but it seems so wasted on this movie. The music is as beautiful and serene as any of his other films. I can't get past the bald faced misogyny and an abuser practically treated as a saint.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins

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