I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t it about time somebody made a new film about vampires? Let The Right One In, the Twilight Saga and TV’s True Blood have drained the market dry of all things blood-sookie (see what I did there?), so you’ll be forgiven for thinking that a fresh taste of blood is about as likely as a vampire who suffers from hemophobia. Director Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy) and his Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance star Song Kang-ho reunite for this darkly comic romantic thriller about a young priest who turns into a vampire.
Sang-hyun cherishes life; so much so, he volunteers for a secret vaccine development project meant to eradicate a deadly virus. Things don’t go according to plan and the blood transfusion used to save the priest is infected. Sang-hyun survives the ordeal, but upon reflection, he probably wishes he hadn’t bothered. Sang-hyun is stronger now and more agile, so far so good then, but what do you mean there’s a catch? Well it turns out that he also has an uncontrollable craving for blood, which left unchecked, brings him out in sores and blisters. Struggling with his newfound desire, Sang-hyun's faith is tested further when an old friend's wife, Te-ju, asks him to help her escape her miserable existence. Sang-hyun plunges teeth first into a world of sensual pleasure, bloody desire and deadly sin.
Park Chan-Wook should be applauded for taking an over familiar concept and injecting it with fresh ideas. Similar in style to Let The Right One In, he is able to revive a well worn formula with a pinch of jet black humour and pathos. Both films take on the subject of vampires but rise above the pitfalls of mythical beings and folklore. The word vampire is rarely used for one, and the world they inhabit appears plausible and real. Thirst is awash with creativity; Park Chan-Wook litters his movie with memorable moments throughout. A two-hour running time in not uncommon for this director and some viewers will find the leisurely pace a bit of a chore, particularly in the opening act. Those that are up to the challenge will be glad they stayed, because there’s much to enjoy from this quirky little movie.
Park Chan-Wook has always laced his movies with a dark vein of humour, none more so than here. Check out the scene where Te-ju shows off her newfound strength to her unsuspecting family. Don’t be alarmed however if you’re only in it for the bloody carnage, there’s plenty of the red stuff to be found as well. The romance card has been played before of course, vampires and passion go together like Ben and Jerry, but this is car crash romance at its very best. Powerful, emotional and destructive to the core; two unstable individuals coming together as one. Life won't be a picnic per say, The Mad Hatters Tea Party would be a better comparison.
Song Kang-ho’s performance is immensely satisfying; I can’t remember a film I haven’t enjoyed him in. Sang-hyun is devout, vulnerable, earnest and reflective. He rationalises all of his actions, in comical fashion at times, and despite his sins, remains true to his own unique ethical code. You know, if you forget the whole bitey-bitey thing. Kim Ok-vin’s character goes through a much bigger transformation, at least on the inside. Needy and vulnerable in the films opening act, the Te-ju she becomes is unrecognisable come suppertime. If Sang-hyun is the films anchor, Te-ju is the films raging storm. It’s a perfect fit and once again, as with his previous films, Park Chan-Wook has assembled a bevy of talented supporting artists to keep us amused, enthralled and entertained.
Don’t be put off by the lengthy running time, or for that matter the slightly stuttering start. Thirst grows into its new set of fangs at an alarming speed, making for a very enjoyable waste of time. The direction is faultless, as are the performances, and Park Chan-Wook’s Thirst astonishes with arresting imagery and well-placed humour. The final moments are both touching and funny, a feat rarely accomplished in this day and age. AW