Thirst (2009)

Thirst is funny, violent, insane, touching, brutal and beautiful. It is a superb piece of work from the visionary director of Oldboy and, rising high above the recent splattering of pop culture vampire flicks, proves that originality can exist amongst a severely over-saturated genre. This is a genuinely excellent horror film.

Priest Sang-hyeon (The Host’s Kang-ho Song) is the accidental vampire. A devote Catholic priest, he agrees to be a test subject in a laboratory, voluntarily incubating a deadly disease in the hope his strong religious beliefs will ensure the latest trial vaccine is a success. God, however, is not Priest Sang-hyeon’s saviour, and a freak accident cures the pustulant virus destroying his body… but at a huge cost.

Fighting against the vampiric blood now pumping through his veins, Priest Sang-hyeon tries desperately not to succumb to the horrendous temptations this unnatural liquid has infected him with. Lust and a necessary greed for blood battle with his love of God and his dedication to doing good. Despite his own protestations, Priest Sang-hyeon covets Tae-Joo (Ok-vin Kim, in a brilliantly twisted turn), a young woman trapped unhappily with her dim-witted husband and his rude mother. As Priest Sang-hyeon and Tae-Joo become more and more entangled and his supernatural secret is revealed, the consequences of this new, bizarre relationship are both amazing and utterly deadly.

Thirst is not cashing in on the Twilight phenomena or jumping on the endless train of bandwagons that have shamelessly followed it. It does not pander to the eroticism of vampirism (despite the occasional sex scene) or even question the mythos, and it certainly doesn’t treat the audience like idiots, frequently surprising and leaving you to question the motives and actions of various characters. This is a piece ten years in the making and is beautifully, thoughtfully and bloodily crafted, more akin to a wild and brutal version of Let The Right One In than the visceral but brainless likes of Underworld.

One surprising aspect of Thirst is that it is very funny, and only occasionally darkly so. It is violent, wince-inducing and morally twisted, but throughout retains a cheeky sense of knowing that is refreshing and endlessly endearing. This is not a surprise considering it comes from the warped brain responsible for the excellent vengeance trilogy (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance), yet Thirst even surpasses these on many levels. Unlike some of Chan-Wook’s other work, very little of Thirst drags. All of its content seems necessary, with only the occasional piece of culture clashing or uncharacteristic actions jolting the pacing slightly. It is lengthy at over two hours, but not detrimentally so.

There are moments of beauty, moments of outright hilarity, moments that will shock, upset, sicken, amaze and horrify – neck snappingly, limb-breakingly, face-smashingly insane at times – Thirst has so much that assaults the senses and sticks in the memory that it’s a compulsive watch. Tragically some poor and unnecessary CGI lets it down on one occasion, but it almost seems cruel to mention it as every other frame is a gloriously crafted image that is stunning and provocative.

With Thirst, Park Chan-Wook has solidified himself as a quality and superb director / writer. His work is smart, beautifully envisioned and utterly compelling. Thematically it touches on so many ideas and moral questions that a second viewing is essential to fully absorb its contents. This is a modern masterpiece full of warmth, humour and loose fingernails. Essential viewing.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

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