Thirst (2009)
By: Julian on February 22, 2010  | 
DVD
Eastern Eye (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). Korean DD 5.1, Korean DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 128 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Chan-wook Park
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ok-bin Kim, Hae-sook Kim
Screenplay: Seo-Gyeong Jeong, Chan-wook Park
Country: South Korea
External Links
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Vampires in film have explored an absolutely fascinating path. If Count Dracula (from Bram Stoker's 1897 novel) gave a nitrous-oxide boost to the hysteria, then blood-sucking nightwalkers have been imbued in over a century of popular culture. Mostly, though, and speaking now in terms of the vampire in film, they've been archvillains, demonic antagonists from Bela Lugosi's 1931 incarnation, through to the swelling, malevolent hoards peopling films like Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk til Dawn and John Carpenter's Vampires.

But the vampire as supreme baddie is not a given, and it's a relatively recent phenomenon for vampires to be a bit more subdued. Indeed, it's become the norm – gone are the days the vampire in mainstream cinema is a gleefully psychotic brute. The choice, or lack thereof, of the vampire and its condition has now been foregrounded and a phalanx of films – the trend owing more-than-fleetingly to Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire – have been released presenting vampires not as bloodsucking fiends, but as misunderstood freaks who'd give anything not to thirst for the claret. Enter Blade, of the eponymous film, Edward Cullen, of Twilight, and Sang-hyeon of Thirst, a missionary who became a vampire after a blood transfusion. Don't be fooled, though – for those with the hype (and target demographic) of Stephenie Meyer's novels and the film adaptations fresh in mind, Thirst will be a breath of fresh air; sure, it tells the tale of an unwilling vampire and it throws in a dollop of romance, but teenage girls in search of a companion piece will be sorely disappointed (and, more likely than not, thoroughly disturbed). South Korean maestro Chan-wook Park's latest film is a sight to behold, grisly, atmospheric and in a similar, but ultimately lesser, league to the spectacular Let the Right One In.

The plot in brief. Priest Sang-hyeon (Kang-ho Song, who played the Weird in another terrific South Korean genre effort The Good the Bad the Weird) selflessly volunteers to undergo trials for a vaccine to a deadly virus. He succumbs to the disease, like the vast number of previous test subjects, but he is brought back to life by a blood transfusion that turns him into a vampire. And although Sang-hyeon, a devout man of the cloth, remains true on his pledge not to claim any lives post-infection, a growing infatuation with Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim) will prove his undoing.

I'm not terribly familiar with Park's earlier work – I've only seen Oldboy, an overrated effort, and his contribution to the triptych Three…Extremes (and for the record, I thought his was the superior short of the three). In Thirst, the director immediately proves his chops as an immensely talented visual stylist. The movie is engaging from the outset and even though Park and Seo-gyeong Jeong's screenplay (very freely modelled on Émile Zola's novel Thérèse Raquin, mostly based (I assume) on a loose interpretation of Zola's "human beasts" idea) becomes a bit heavy towards the middle, it nonetheless remains a sublime spectacle. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, who worked with Park on his Vengeance trilogy, does an amazing job with the unremittingly grim setting. Park and Chung also delight in filming a highly erotically charged picture, the scenes of bloodletting presented with as much carnal zest (with the typical vampiric penetration allegory) as the relatively graphic sex scenes themselves are.

The similarities between Thirst and Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In, a Swedish export that flipped the Twilight premise on its head (and toughened it up to boot) are clear – both are two oddball non-English language vampire movies released in the past year or so, and are heavily reliant on style and beauty (the latter mostly transferred by the films' settings). But the two movies differ in pacing, and that's where Thirst suffers. It's occasionally uneven and, while I think the screenplay regains momentum when lethargy threatens to overcome the movie, it lessens the whole experience. Further, at 129 minutes, Thirst comes off as self-indulgent, but this is sporadic enough to not really interfere with the film as a whole.

Overcome these issues, and Thirst is the best vampire movie of 2009, a real genre highlight. It's smart and violent, and where the narrative drags its feet or the attempts at biting humour seem forced, lean back and just watch this elegant, intelligent movie. It has its faults, but Thirst comes highly recommended from me.
Video
This magnificent film is dealt an equally stunning transfer, in 2.35:1 widescreen with 16:9 enhancement.
Audio
Two Korean-language Dolby tracks, in 5.1 and 2.0. Top notch.
Extra Features
Poor – a theatrical trailer and an international trailer. Here's hoping a more comprehensive release does the rounds sometime soon.
The Verdict
Genre fans quick to write this off as an arthouse movie pandering to the arthouse movie crowd are denying themselves of a real feast. Aside from being a visual spectacle, Chan-Wook Park's smart and gory Thirst showcases a stellar performance from Kang-ho Song, one of South Korea's most versatile and compelling actors.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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