A vampire film by the director of Old Boy, Chan-wook Park, sounds indeed like a bloody mess. That it is – well, bloody. In contrast to the neo-puritanical Twilight saga, the korean award winner at the Cannes film festival, Thirst, almost overflows with bloodlust and lechery. However, do not expect a faithful genre experience. The virtuoso Park has as usual created his own uniquely peculiar universe that not even on the bloody surface will accept to be just an ordinary vampire flick.
Sang-hyun is a young frustrated priest. With all his heart, he would love to help people with their lives, but within life his fellow people use the power of science, not religion, which they only want to make use of in the great boring beyond. As an attempt to make a difference in life, Sang-hyun voluntarily signs up for a risky experiment to assist in developing a vaccine against a deadly virus, which only strikes the male part of the planet. Something goes wrong. All volunteers die except for the priest who, filled with abscesses, is hailed as a local messiah. However, Sang-hyun’s earthly tribulations are now just getting started. The plague of the virus has transformed the survivor into a blood-hungry creature that is given the blessing or curse of eternal life. Further, it doesn’t get any less complicated for the poor priest, when his married childhood friend, the alluring and lovely Tae-ju, starts to encourage the newly gained lustful side of the chaste preacher.
After the trilogy of vengeance - with Old Boy as the filmic light and powerhouse - Chan-wook Park has now shifted his focus from the lust of revenge to the lust of blood. But the inspiration is not from the Bram Stoker classic Dracula. Instead Park playfully mixes different kinds of genres and expressions of style, as it was seen in Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One in. Without any comparison, by the way. In Park’s outré mix is the classic vampire themes - cleric abstinence vs. secular sinful lust - spiced up with touches of film noir and harsh humour, which all together end up with a bit of an indeterminable taste. But it sure does taste – powerful and irresistible.
Despite that the middle part of the film has a scent of deadlock it is still primarily engaging and entertaining to follow the vampire priests climb into the Tree of Knowledge to bite the alluring crimson apple – the salvation and the curse of humanity. But it is in the visualization of the filmic climb that Thirst seriously is thirst quenching. Chan-wook Park’s court photographer Chung-hoon Chung has this time around surpassed himself in a film that maybe can’t reach the quality of content from Old Boy, but in its visualization stands upon the shoulders of the retired boy and reaches out to infinity. The infinitely beautiful and technically superior.
The photographer Chung constantly manages to create unexpected depth and spectacular picture angles in a story that embraces both the absurdly insane and the poetically touching. You can hold its genre diversity against Thirst or celebrate it for just the same. In one sequence we are overwhelmed by laughter, when Sang-hyun drains coma victims out of there blood reserves down into his water bottle - the dear priest so reluctantly wants to kill - for in the next to be served steaming erotica by a seducing femme fatale, which wonderfully provoking is the film’s most lustful creature.
Blood, erotica and morbid humour. What can you more want from a film, where the only appeal to be made is against the slow paced middle part, which could have been shortened down unproblematically. Thirst is a well orchestrated round of bloody picture magic that with its absurd otherness is noble propaganda for the film media, and with unequivocally clarity shows that the tortuous mind of the mad Korean is far from being quenched from its thirst for brilliant filmmaking.