Thirst (2009) dir. by Park Chan-Wook
Starring: Song Kang-Ho, Kim Ok-Bin
By Blair Stewart
A Korean vampire priest is tormented by Catholic Sin in his lust for sex and fine
ropes of arterial spray in "Thirst", the latest from Chan Wook-Park of "Oldboy" fame.
You already had me at 'Korean Vampire Priest', you sick puppy Chan-Wook!
Asian star Song Kang-Jo(the dopey hero in international smash creature-feature "The Host") is Father Sang-hyun, a missionary traveling into the plague-heart of Africa and falling afoul of tainted blood. Returning as the lone survivor of a virus to his old stomping grounds, Sang-hyun is hounded by his cult status amongst the Priesthood and a private Devil's hankering for the warm red stuff. Further complicating matters, the young man is reunited with childhood sweetheart Tae-Ju(Kim Ok-bin), and her unstable in-laws.
Tempering his blood dependence with after-hours samplings at the hospital, the newly resplendent Sang-hyun lets Tae-ju get between him and his vow of chastity, which then leads to a love quadrangle including his Holy Spirit and her simpleton husband. Based on what follows, this is a minor set-up. If you're already familiar with the work of the director, you'll know Chan-Wook's brand of melodramatic carnage awaits.
Under the cramped shadows of modern Korea Park and his regular cinematographer Jeong Jeong-hoon find as much space for inspired camera movement as Fassbinder
did in the tidy living rooms of 70's Germany. Avoiding the sun, "Thirst" often has the quality of a macabre chamber drama before Sang-hyun goes out into the night to leap rooftops and avoid jugulars. There is a palatable chemistry between Song and Kim and as this is an adult vampire story their sex is hot enough the abstinent punks in "Twilight" should take notes for later.
As the fallen holy man Song Kang-Jo shares a quality with the likes of Tom Hanks, he's a leading man you empathise with regardless of terrible deeds. Playing Dracula's bride, Kim Ok-bin has a very bright future as an actress and a babe.
Despite the creativity of ideas pouring out of the story "Thirst" had me worn me down by the second hour as many of Park's films have done. While not as manipulative as "JLA" or graphically unpleasant as "Sympathy for Mr. Vengence", Park's latest jumps between so many moods that the end arrives like a marathon finish line. His filming style is world-class kinetic but I have yet to see Park do subtle. Despite his lack of restraint, Park is still one on par with Hollywood's best for sustained tension and exceptional set-pieces, although he hasn't surpassed the "Oldboy" hallway battle. Taking more chances than most horror films, "Thirst" is an admirable shot in the arm for the vampire genre.
"Thirst" is available on DVD in Canada from Alliance Films