Thirst: after a failed experiment a priest develops an urge to drink human blood, it doesn’t help that the world thinks he’s blessed by god, and he’s falling in love. For most of the runtime the film never really ups gear, remaining slow and intense from start to finish – the setup in particular takes time to get going. Adding to the mood are some morbid undertones (suicidal priest, very awkward sex scene etc). The final act feels like a jumbled-up mess, with lots of sudden developments and a lot to tie up, although the last scenes do save the movie. Much like OldBoy, JSA, I’m a Cyborg, and Sympathy for Mr vengeance, Park Chan Wook’s streak of offbeat, oddball and very, very black humour crops up to provide some guilty laughs. Leading man Song Kang-ho is superb to watch as his character wrestles between his moral/religious background and new-found vampire urges. The scariest part of the film is how technically proficient and well-directed it is, no matter how dingy or clinical the settings are, they’re immaculately planned, framed to perfection, and the camera movement is immense… this guy is, without a doubt, one of the best directors in the world. Whilst Thirst is a fresh, poetic, and ultra-stylish take on the crammed vampire genre, its own silver bullet is the slow pacing and lack of drama for the most part. It’s not a bad film, by any stretch, but will probably appeal most to goths and fans of vampires / blood / self-harming / sex.
JSA: Joint Security Area: focuses on the investigation after a fatal shooting at the highly sensitive North/South Korean border. The police-procedural investigation element is done very well, and as the story unfolds you’re drying to find out what really happened. It also does a good job of explaining the tensions between North & South Korea and most interestingly – shows a neutral account from both sides. The two main solders are outstanding Byung-Hun / Kang-ho; I couldn’t recommend both their filmographies enough. From Park Chan Wook, this is a sensational international debut, well-shot, showing a master craftsman in the youth of his career. The final shot is phenomenal, smart and pretty unforgettable. I’m glad this was made with ‘global’ in mind, aiding its travel and success – some English dialogue and title cards etc. The sleeping on the job / army bromance goes a little too far, but other than that, the film is a great drama piece, with characters that you fully invest in. Perhaps it’s that we only get the best released in the UK, but I genuinely believe that South Korea has some of the best talent in the film industry both in front of – and behind – the camera, and this is a great example.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird: Set in the 1930s, a bounty hunter, most-wanted criminal and petty thief are all after the same ancient treasure map. This flick has it all: style, action, plot, rivalry, twists, adventure, suspense, guns, huge sets, humour and explosions. Most of all, it’s actually great fun to watch, with the exception of a few short ‘meh’ sections and one psychedelic scene – the rest is all killer. The whole story, but most notably the final scenes are brilliantly executed classic Western. The Bad and Weird characters are great to watch, and the director‘s on good form. Definitely a bit more of a bloodbath than you’d expect from an upbeat film like this with scarlet, limbs and fingers flying all over the place. The audio track really comes alive during the action scenes and there’s a nice nod to Tarrantino with an epic song choice for the huge chase scene. There’s also a nice bit of Korean history thrown in the mix. Overall, it’s an amazing film from a director with a great track record, and another brilliant example of why Korea is one of the best countries as far as movie exports go.
The Host: creature feature from South Korea. Starts off like a trendy comedy horror, with awful over-acting, but gets more serious as the story progresses. There were a few awesome moments of suspense, but in general it didn’t seem to know whether to be funny or serious – ended up an eclectic mix. The music also conveys this, being spot on in parts, but totally ridiculous in others. The start and end are great, action-packed and when the film really comes to life, although the mid-section isn’t as good, coming across as drawn out and filler. The most outstanding part of this film was the monster, and the special-effects. Other than the very end it’s amazingly convincing and looked great. Some good, but predictable jumps along the way, and why is it that people in films like this always fall over when they’re running for their lives?! Mini political agenda regarding media hysteria, chemical warfare, failure of ‘the system’ and western criticism but it’s never really in your face. Far more focus on the family than the monster. Great action and tedious backstory but don’t really understand how it became the biggest Korean film of all-time, reasonable attempt nonetheless.