Chan-Wook Park’s Thirst is an extravagant and absurd vampire film with just enough skew to it to make it fresh. And god almighty, it’s fun.

Now I have to be honest—the first half of this movie is much better than the second half. But the second half is still entertaining and intriguing, just rather incoherent and with a tone completely at odds with the first. But I don’t care. Thirst is just too much fun, too deliciously watchable, for petty complaints. Park’s film skips capriciously through genres, twirling its way around bloody vampire flick, film noir, whimsical indie quirk, nod to “The Tell-Tale Heart” and violently depressing treatise on human debasement. But fun!

The wonderfully talented Kang-ho Song (The Host and The Good, The Bad and The Weird) plays Catholic priest Sang-hyeon, a benevolent yet overwhelmingly repressed man who volunteers himself as a subject for an experimental cure of the Emmanuelle Virus (EV). EV involves lots of pustules, blood-spewing and fingernails that won’t stay put, followed immediately by death. Sang-hyeon is the only volunteer of 50 to survive, in part thanks to a blood transfusion that accidentally turns him into a vampire. Yep, a vampire priest! Which is something new! Except for how he’s all traditionally broody and guilty and lame about his vamp status, more Angel than Angelus.

Tae-ju (the luminous Ok-bin Kim) is the wife/foster-sister (yep!) of an old school chum of Sang-hyeon’s, Kang-woo. Kang-woo is often referred to by Tae-ju, most accurately, as The Idiot. The Idiot’s mother is the drunk, pushy and neurotic Lady Ra (Hae-sook Kim). Tae-ju is miserable in her life with The Idiot and Lady Ra, and wants out. Sang-hyeon is her way out.

Kim’s portrayal of Tae-ju is the best part of this movie (other than the effects, perhaps, which I’ll get to in a bit). She’s lackadaisical, sullen and snarky. Until some stuff happens. Then she becomes totally insane! And she’s simply adorable, self-assured and hilarious either way.

I think Kang-ho Song is an incredible actor, and he is typically superb here as Sang-hyeon, but the character is just too sanctimonious. I don’t think I actually like priests very much. Even vampire priests. Too many hang-ups! And the film has some rather anti-feminist views as Sang-hyeon repeatedly chastises the delightfully amoral Tae-ju. Gross. Nut up, Father! You’re a vampire now! Nobody cares that you think all life is precious! But I must fervently support the hilariously awkward sex scenes between Sang-hyeon and Tae-ju. So. Awkward.

The Idiot and his mom are both uproarious; Thirst has a very light-hearted touch, even with the most damning scenes. Park uses some startlingly original effects in this film, making it unlike the more traditional Old Boy. Thirst is saturated with color and sound, a dark package cloaked in wrapping made of pure fancy. Park uses spectacular effects to portray the intensifying of Sang-hyeon’s vampy senses. The intensity of color, dramatically kick-ass score and exaggerated performances make Thirst more theatrical than Old Boy, but Old Boy is a far better film. While Old Boy is lacking some of the bold editing and ingenious camera work of Thirst, it simply doesn’t need them. Old Boy’s story is perfect—tight and twisty, knocking the audience on its collective ass with its revelatory conclusion. Thirst is overlong, has some serious motivational holes for its characters and the ending skews a tad generic, not to mention insulting to women. But still and all, Thirst is an absolute joy to watch, and Chan-wook Park’s engaging nonconformity is in full play here.

3 Responses to “Thirst”

  1. the poster alone really sold this movie to me, but thanks to yr review, i am now definitely going to check it out.

    i’ll just have to close my eyes for the whole “pustules, blood-spewing” part. yuck!

  2. Yay! I think you’ll definitely dig it. Tae-ju reminds me so much of April from Parks and Rec! Which is obviously a compliment.

  3. This movie did have some really cool parts to it. And it just looked cool. I really enjoyed watching it but, as you said, it did drag on a bit. The main character was way to self-righteous for me but his lady friend was sooooo cute and my favorite part of the movie. I really liked her character.

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