Image Courtesy of IMPawards.com
Director: Chan-Wook Park
Notable Cast: Kang-ho Song, Ha-Kyun Shin, Hae-Sook Kim, Ok-vin Kim
When the South Korean film Oldboy premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004, it won the Grand Prix and also enthusiastic praise from Grand Jury President, and all around cool kid of the film industry, Quentin Tarantino. The success of that film and the rest of the vengeance trilogy – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance – paved the way for director Park Chan-Wook to be a director to watch. Much like Tarantino, Park chooses a different subject for each film, his own take on a particular theme but while maintaining his personal flair. His latest film, Thirst, is his take on the recently popular vampire genre, but with a Park Chan-Wook twist.
Sang-hyeon (Kang-ho Song, The Host) is a Catholic priest with a heart for serving others, spending most of his free time volunteering at hospitals. It is no surprise that he ask to participate in the testing of a new vaccine for the deadly Emmanuel Virus, as he sees people suffering from the virus on a daily basis. However, during the testing, something goes wrong and he contracts the virus. He dies and then comes back to life as a vampire.
Since he keeps his nature as a vampire hidden, his congregation believes that he has miraculous healing powers since he has survived the fatal virus. News of his recovery spreads quickly and his church services are full of new attendees. Among the new believers are Sang-hyeon’s childhood friend Kang-woo (Ha-Kyun Shin, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance), his wife Tae-ju (Ok-vin Kim), and his overbearing mother Lady Ra (Hae-sook Kim). He is invited into their home for a weekly Mah-jongg game where Sang-hyeon develops an attraction towards Tae-ju; an attraction that is fully reciprocated. The two begin a love affair that goes beyond every belief held by Sang-hyeon. He tries desperately to keep his newfound need for human blood and his affair with Tae-ju a secret, but once he turns Tae-ju into a vampire as well, his troubles really begin.
While Thirst may appear like a typical vampire film, it is much more complex. The story takes twists and turns that are completely unexpected, which leaves the audience a bit confused and feeling sort of vulnerable. Perhaps this was intentional as the focus of the film is supposed to be the moral struggle faced by Sang-hyeon, and not vampire lore. He is a priest, and therefore is a morally strong person. But since he’s a vampire who needs human blood to survive, he has to find ways to obtain blood without breaking the commandment, Thou Shalt Not Murder. He verbalizes excuses to Tae-ju during their trysts, hoping to justify his actions. Then finally, he collapses under the weight of the burden of his vampirism and having to answer for Tae-ju’s vampirism.
Vampires have been increasingly popular in today’s culture with HBO’s True Blood, the upcoming Vampire Diaries on the CW, and the Twilight series. The Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In is one that Thirst will most likely be compared with, however the comparisons between the two are few. Both are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, with their bright colors and sharp contrast. Both are inventive stories. Both are foreign films. But those basic elements are the only similarities. Thirst is a film that is totally unique, and while not his best film, totally Park Chan-Wook.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):
Tags: Oldboy, Park Chan-Wook, The Host