Like a lot of people burned out with Twilight-mania, I am fucking sick of vampires, and generally have little to no interest in reading, seeing or hearing anything about them. That being said, when I heard of the Korean vampire movie Thirst, I was instantly enticed for one simple reason, and that reason was its director, the great Chan-wook Park.
For those of you (likely everyone) unfamiliar with the work of Park, he specializes in ultra-violent revenge films, most notably the 2005 masterpiece Oldboy, which ranks second on my list of the best movies of the new millennium (trailing only Feardotcom).
While Thirst doesn’t reach the heights of that brilliant film, it is an undeniably effective and jarring thriller well worth seeing for anyone who has the stomach for it.
Thirst is the story of Sang-hyun, a well-respected priest who participates in an experiment which tests out an antidote for a horrific disease. Naturally, the experiment is a disaster and Sang-hyun is the only survivor, but it has had a noticeably negative effect on him in that he is a vampire.
The movie focuses on the internal struggle of the priest as he tries to maintain his good-natured ways, which conflict greatly with his new string of lusts, which aside from his desires to drink blood, includes his sexual desires towards Tae-joo, the oppressed and unhappy wife of a childhood friend he’s recently reconnected with.
All of Park’s films are visually stunning and Thirst is no exception. He is always able to shoot night scenes in a very creepy and effective manner and it really adds an unsettling element to this movie in particular.
The performances in the movie are also first-rate. Kang-ho Song, whose been in three previous Park films, is superb as the conflicted priest stuck in a predicament he wants no part of. Equally excellent is Ok-vin Kim as Tae-joo. This is a very complex role that ultimately requires for her to pull a complete emotional 180, and Kim handles the transformation very effectively.
Park and writing partner Seo-Gyeong Jeong have also assembled an excellent script. There are a great amount of twists and turns throughout the story and while it’s difficult to give an intricate summary of the film without giving away key plot points, I will state most of the twists are successful in keeping the story moving in effective manner. One twist in particular involving Tae-joo’s mother initially looked to me like it would take the story in a ridiculous direction, only to turn into the movie’s most ingenious element.
Lastly, one has to praise Park’s always engrossing direction. His specialty is presenting sudden, brutal acts of violence in a stirring and profound way that either leaves the viewer in awe or totally appalled. Often times it does both. While there’s nothing here as grotesque as the hammer claw tooth removal scene from Oldboy or the baseball bat skull smashing from 2002’s Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, this movie’s plenty bloody. While I normally find Park’s depiction of violence powerful (though the two minutes of snapping finger bones, my most hated of sounds, in this movie was a bit much for me) he is an acquired taste and not everyone will want to sit through some of the movie’s more grotesque moments.
While I did very much like this movie, it falls short of greatness due to a meandering middle section. There are several love scenes between the Priest and Tae-joo, which are crucial to the plot early on. However, aside from not being particularly erotic, the sex scenes get very repetitive and they nearly caused me to lose interest in the story. For the most part I quickly forgave the slow pace because the last 45 minutes of this film are creepy, intelligent and very satisfying, but its flaws can’t be completely ignored as they stop this very good movie from achieving a very obtainable greatness.
Thirst is a very good 2 hour and 15 minute movie that could have been an excellent 2 hour movie. But minor quarrels aside, it’s still a film very much worth seeing and another triumph for one of the world’s best directors. If you can handle the films’ more violent elements, it offers a nice alternative to those of you either unable to or merely uninterested in fighting the multiplex crowds flocking to see New Moon this weekend.
- Good acting
- Excellent, surprise-filled writing
- Great direction
- Visually striking
- Meanders too much to achieve greatness
Final Score: 8/10