Cannes 2009: The Tomato Report ? Thirst?s Vampires Descend on the Croisette

As Park Chan-wook premieres his latest horror, are the critics impressed?

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Park Chan-wook is best known for his exceptional Vengeance Trilogy -- Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance -- three blood-soaked, expertly drawn films that seemed to challenge all that had come before. When he announced plans to explore vampire mythology, he set genre hearts aflutter and the result of those plans is Thirst, which screened yesterday at the Cannes Film Festival.

Korean mainstay Song Kang-ho plays Father Sang-hyun, a man conflicted by carnal feelings for his friend's wife and sent to Africa to participate in a medical experiment designed to eradicate a virus which causes painful boils on the skin and, eventually, death by blood loss. The antidote they're developing is ineffective, he dies and is brought back to life symptom-free.

On his return, he finds he's become a local celebrity -- the God-fearing folk of his home town consider their local priest must have been saved by the Almighty -- but he discovers a predilection for blood, an aversion to sunlight and even more intense feelings for his beloved.

Cannes 2009
Song Kang-ho is a tortured priest in Thirst

With five reviews currently buoying the Tomatometer, critics have been mixed to the results of Park's attempt. This reviewer, writing for IGN, claimed that while Thirst wasn't the great vampire tale we'd hoped from the director, the film wasn't without its charms. "Picking up on the priest's relationship with [his friend's wife], by far the least interesting aspect of the premise, Park spends more than two hours getting us from A to B. As much as the film's ultimate journey is disappointing, though, when Thirst is at its best it's convention-defying. That alone makes it worth a look."

Empire's Damon Wise was similarly positive with conditions. "It was too long, but Thirst is a film that stays in the memory," he wrote in his daily blog for Empire Online. "It's a film about trust, betrayal and the dangers of acting on impulse ... but it's also a very good black comedy ... and I seem to like it more each time I think about it."

The Huffington Post's Karin Badt told RT that Thirst unjustifiably bloody. "The point seems to be that being a vampire is a way to rebel against sexual repression, especially if you are Catholic, but that's too limited a subtext to justify all the blood and gore. After that, the movie is just sucking, sex, blood and more blood."

Firmly disappointed was Derek Elley for Variety. He wrote that Thirst was, "an overlong stygian comedy that badly needs a transfusion of genuine inspiration. At some stage, what began as a typically wry, genre-bending take on sin and redemption seems to have shed most of its subtext."

Cannes 2009
Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw in Jane Campion's Bright Star

Also screening yesterday was Jane Campion's Bright Star, with Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw and tells the tale of a secret love affair between 23-year-old English poet, John Keats, and the girl next door, Fanny Brawne. Critics were more impressed with the results here. Allan Hunter called it, "Campion's most fully realised, satisfying achievement in a long while," in Screen International, adding that, "it will be warmly embraced as a prestige item with awards potential."

While positive, Emanuel Levy wrote on his website that the film, "avoids pitfalls of the biopic format but offers few insights into what made Keats a unique figure, resulting in an ultra-restrained conventional arthouse film." Badt for Huffington was less impressed in her conversation with RT. It was, she says, a "gentle aesthetic paean to love, but [it] becomes an elastic band without stretch or zing by the end."

Nevertheless, the film sits at 100% on the Tomatometer with 6 reviews currently collected. Coming up in the festival, we're keeping an eye on Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock and will be sharing some early reactions to Precious, a movie we recently raved about as part of our continuing coverage. Keep an eye on our Cannes hub for everything related to the festival!