Written by: The Dude
The vampire movie has seen a lot of different incarnations, ranging from Legosi's terrifying at the time Dracula, to the glittery Hot Topic models of the recent Twilight series, and a whole slew that fit in between. The vampire has become metaphor for love, sexuality, sexual confusion, plain old hormones... mostly things involving changes in the mind or body (or outside world), that are strange and not normal. Thirst, the latest film from Oldboy helmer Park Chan-wook, is yet another exploration of these themes, but, you know, done with the skill and talent of the man who brought us Oldboy.
Thirst tells the story of a priest (Song Kang-ho, you might recognize from The Host) who volunteers for a secret project that's developing a vaccine for a deadly virus. Unfortunately, the virus gets the best of him, and in the last moments of his life, the doctors try to save him with a blood transfusion. This works.. sort of after he already dies. As you can probably guess, the blood has a strain that the priest outright declares as "Vampirism". The disease is gone, but now he lives with the (wait for it).... Thirst!
Awakened to this strange new world, a world that requires the blood of others in order to survive, a world that requires things the priest has never thought himself capable of doing, brings up a lot of moralistic questions to the priest. In addition to his Thirst (title!), the priest is also confronted by growing feelings of sexuality towards the wife of a childhood friend. These feelings eventually manifest into some insane sex scenes, full of some of the more grosser sounds I've heard on a soundtrack. They also set the stage for the new life the once moral and decent man has now found himself living in.
There's more to the story, including characters that would fit nicely in a light comedy about family relationships, but alas, this is not that movie. This is a dark, brutal, though often times hilarious, tale of morality and sexuality and having faith then losing it and hopefully regaining it once again. It's chock full of great images and not overly drenched in blood. This is a horror movie, but not in a jump and scare you kind of way. It's a film about somber moods and tension. It's also a love story, as we discover the priest falling in love, not just for carnal pleasures (sex) but genuine love. And the regret that love brings.
Park Chan-wook has made a film that will not eradicate the memory of those precious Twilight tweens. There is a lot of blood shed, but if you're willing to dig deeper, the movie is full of richer themes and powerful images. It's not the greatest of all vampire movies (That would be Blade 2), and it doesn't tread into any new territory. Instead it lingers on these moralistic choices and shows us a full human experience through the eyes of someone that's no longer human but is beginning to taste life, and for that I respect the film a hell of a lot more than I actually liked it.
The performances are fine (especially Song Kang-ho) and the cinematography is gorgeous. The set pieces are interesting, and never quite go where you think they might. There's nothing bad about this movie at all, but I just felt that, since there was a lot of hype surrounding the film to begin with, that it didn't do anything new. Yes it dug deeper than most, it's not about the artifice and the glamour, but it's still around the same waterhole. I feel the movie will probably grow better upon multiple viewings, once you've discovered what the film is really about and what it is saying. Most films by Park Chan-wook do that.
By no means is this a bad film at all, and I would recommend you see it if you're a fan of the genre or not. Seeing a well made movie that tries and may not always succeed is always better than watching something terrible or boring and safe. By no means at all is Thirst a safe film, and in an ideal world, everyone who bought a ticket to Twilight would have to see this as well.
Having said that, though, and because I REALLY wanted to write this line before I even saw the movie , here you go: Have the glut of this summer's movies left you feeling parched? Try Thirst!