THIRST  (REVIEW)
Dir. Park Chan-wook
Reviewer. Dan Cook
Having directed some of the most disturbing and brutal scenes in movie history, it seems inevitable that Park Chan-wook would eventually make a horror movie - and when he did, what a horror movie it was. There has always been a sense of forbidden eroticism in Park’s films and that underlying passion comes right to the forefront in THIRST, his lusty 2009 blood-sucking masterpiece that manages to breathe life into the vampire movie while also pertaining to many of the standard conventions that have made it such an immortal mainstay in the sphere of horror cinema.
Frequent collaborator Song Kang-ho (who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite actors currently working) is terrific here as Sang-hyun, a dedicated and chaste priest whose animalistic urges and carnal desires are unleashed when a tainted blood transfusion turns him into a haemoglobin-hungry creature of the night. Things take an even more morally troubling turn when the now sexually enlivened Sang-hyun embarks on a sordid relationship with Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), the unsatisfied wife of a now infirmed childhood friend of the former Father whose desires for love begin to be quashed by her deepening desire to become a vampire herself.
The story of THIRST takes many twists and turns, some more shocking than others and as one would expect from Park Chan-wook, it is full of spine-chilling and genuinely disturbing moments of vampiric terror that remain some of the most indelible ever seen. Blood is spilled at a rapid rate, innocent bodies are broken with frightening frequency and there is a pervading air of creeping dread that permeates every scene of the picture like a suffocating fog. This almost overwhelming atmosphere of menace, as well as Song Kang-ho’s brilliantly athletic yet debonair performance, allows its numerous anti-heroes to carry an identity far distinguished from the traditional cape-wearing ghouls of Transylvania and as a result, makes them that much more plausible and terrifying.
But beyond its blood-letting and sequences of brutal butchery, what really makes THIRST memorable are the eye-opening sex scenes which leave very little to the imagination when compared to most Western vampire features. Of course, fans of Park’s films shouldn’t be surprised by the intensity and frankness of these sequences and while graphic, they are shot in a tasteful and compelling manner, adding to the plot rather than detracting from it. Before his transformation, our central character prized his chastity so to see him fully embrace his more libidinous side is both revelatory and somewhat cathartic, almost like watching a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly. Some may dismiss these scenes as mere exercises in titillation but the themes of sex run through the very bloodstream of the vampire movie and THIRST gleefully revels in this liberating lasciviousness with an adult and wholly tasteful eye.
As a fan of Song Kang-ho, Park Chan-wook, vampire pictures and horror in general, ‘Thirst’ gave me pretty much everything I could want from a movie. Yes, some of its more outlandish effects haven’t aged particularly well and at 2 hours and 13 minutes, the film is slightly too long. Nonetheless, it is a fearsome and fascinating slice of bloody mayhem that stands alongside Tomas Alferedson’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, Guillermo Del Toro’s CRONOS and Ana Lily Amirpour’s A GIRL WALKS ALONE AT NIGHT as one of the key vampire movies of the past half century.