Review by Jack Foley
IF ANYONE was going to have a little fun with a well-worn genre, it was Park Chan-wook.
The Oldboy director’s take on the vampire legend is as idiosyncratic as we’ve come to expect – dark, funny, provocative and sexy.
Thirst isn’t always successful in what it’s trying to achieve and is definitely overlong, but it’s innovative enough to be recommended and gripping enough to keep you gripped for most of its 2-hour plus running time.
When Catholic priest Father Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) volunteers for a medical experiment designed to eradicate a killer virus sweeping his homeland, he unwittingly becomes infected and requires a transfusion that turns him into a vampire.
Once home, he must juggle his dependence with a newfound sexual appetite for Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin), the wife of a childhood friend who is seeking her own escape.
But as Sang-hyun eventually gives in to the deadly sins, his conscious plays havoc and it’s only a matter of time before he’s forced to take drastic measures.
First and foremost, Thirst excels in its enthralling conflict of morality and ideology – the battle between good and evil has seldom seemed so stark and yet so conflicted.
Sang-hyun’s humanity as a priest may be tested by his blood-lust, but his fixes only come from mercy killings or transfusions early on.
As he gives in to his desires for Tae-ju, however, things become complicated – and even more so once the young woman is transformed into a vampire herself and displays a relish for the darker side of vampirism.
Chan-wook veteran Song Kang-ho is on top form as the conflicted priest, juggling his good versus evil conflict to convincingly tortured effect, but Kim Ok-vin is a revelation as Tae-ju, transforming from brow-beaten sexual shrinking violet to lusty killer with sheer glee.
The two central performers make for a compelling couple and are genuinely worth investing time in.
That said, some of Chan-wook’s flights of fancy are just plain odd and diversions into ghost-story territory and murder threaten to test the patience and detract from some of the central moral dilemmas.
Indeed, the film does threaten to lose its way at times and become too obscure.
But Chan-wook gets things back on track to deliver a thrilling and richly satisfying ending that ensures Thirst lives long in the memory as one of the brighter additions to the vampire genre, and the director’s own back catalogue.
In Korean, with subtitles
Running time: 2hrs 10mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: January 25, 2010