Reviews of film screening during the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival.
Thirst (Bakjwi, Park Chan-wook, 2009) ✭✭✭✭
Like You Know It All (Jal aljido mothamyeonseo, Hong Sang-soo, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
The Girlfriend Experience (Steven Soderbergh, 2009) ✭✭✭
South Korean director, and festival favourite, Park Chan-wook (Old Boy, Lady Vengeance) can always be relied upon to provide a film that is unique, daring and challenges all sorts of conventions, and his stylish horror/comedy/romance Thirst certainly does all that. After dying during a medical experiment to develop a vaccine for a deadly virus, the Priest Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho from The Host) is resurrected as a vampire when some unidentifiable blood is transfused into him. Having lived a moral life up until now, Sang-hyun not only has a blood lust awakened within, but a lust of the more conventional kind for Tae-joo (Kim Ok-vin), the unhappy wife of a childhood friend. The sex/violence metaphor is nothing original, particularly in a vampire film, but with its amplified sucking and squelching sounds and sheer audacity, academics will be lining up to discuss Thirst’s brazen use of the abject and its approach to bodily horror. As weird and gruesome as Thirst gets, it is also very playful and Park demonstrates his great ability in creating moments of visual comedy. However, the most distinguishing element of Thirst is its love story component and as the forbidden lovers, Song and Kim generate an incredible amount of chemistry. They perform one of the most intense and erotic sex scenes ever captured on film and their movements together throughout the space of this film is akin to dancing. Their violence towards one another is tender and their tenderness for each other is violent. At first glance Thirst draws many parallels with The Fly and Let the Right One In but its true reference point are the films of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
Audiences who caught Night and Day at MIFF last year will have an idea of what to expect from South Korean director Hong Sang-soo, whose easy-going and naturalistic approach to filmmaking results in enjoyable and leisurely paced films. Like You Know It All follows an up-and-coming art house film director. He is the guest of a film festival during which he delivers a seminar to a group of critical students and later discovers that his old mentor is now married to a woman he once proposed to. Through various low-key drunken evenings and awkward social encounters Hong depicts that various insecurities, insincerities, fawning, soliciting and rivalries take place under the guise of polite conversations. Like You Know It All is pleasantly entertaining, frequently funny and very understated. While dialogue and situations from later in the film mirror events from earlier, the film still feels as if it was developed in an almost stream of consciousness style with little interest in creating an overall sense of cohesion. It’s an enjoyable film but if you, for example, left five minutes before it ended so as not to miss the start of another screening, you probably won’t care about the lack of closure.
Typical of the type of low budget and almost experimental films that director Steven Soderbergh often likes to make between his bigger projects, The Girlfriend Experience is a film about transactions and commodities. Starring pornography star Sasha Grey in her feature film debut, The Girlfriend Experience is an interesting curiosity piece but it is hampered by an initially confusing narrative and an over use of alienating cinematography techniques such as shooting scenes in wide shot with the characters in the background.
(Read Cinema Autopsy’s full review of The Girlfriend Experience)
Hey Thomas, finally got around to watching Thirst last night! A bit streaky but as usual with Park the best bits are VERY good and it’s a visual treat from start to finish. Though it doesn’t have the same flair as Oldboy or some of his other films.
It definitely could have been trimmed by about 15-20 minutes though – I think his failing is a lack of coherence in the writing at times.
But totally agreed about how erotic the sex scenes are, and I was surprised at how funny it was too. It has some hilarious moments like the paralysed mother pointing the finger of blame during the mahjong game. Dark but brilliant.
Yes, Thirst is not as good as Old Boy and I think Old Boy is Park’s best film to date. I agree that Thirst could have done with a trim somewhere in the middle as it does slump slightly but overall it is a film that for me overcomes any of its shortcomings.
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