You know that bit in “Twilight” where Kristen Stewart walks in on Robert Pattison repeatedly soiling his pants (front or back is not clear) in the classroom? Well there’s a scene like that in “Thirst”, only it’s a lot more explicit. You know that scene in “Twilight” where Robert Pattinson puts Kristen Stewart on his back and gets pulled by some CGI through a forest? Well there’s a scene like that in “Thirst” only it doesn’t look shit. You know that scene in “Twilight” where Robert Pattison throws a tree a really long distance? Well there’s a scene in “Thirst” where Song Kang-ho does the same, but with the boot of a car. You know “Twilight”? Well “Thirst” is better than that.
The reason I’m going on so much about “Twilight” is not just because that’s to what everyone seems to be comparing “Thirst”, but actually I’m doing it because they are in fact quite similar. Not similar in a ‘It’s “Ong Bak” meets “The Matrix” on acid vs. “Power Rangers” times eleven minus “Fletch” at Hogwarts!!’ poster-quote kind of way, but in a ‘Wow this film is like a better version of “Twilight” with less frowning’ kind of way.
“Thirst” surrounds Song Kang-ho’s (from “The Host”) priest and his accidental transformation into a vampire (I hate it when that happens) and the subsequent romance that blossoms with a human girl. What makes “Thirst” better than “Twilight” is not only the fact that there’s loads of sex and violence, but mainly because there’s a lot more going on than a simple vampire-human relationship. Oh and there’s no silly haircuts. Actually yes there is.
These extra elements include the central premise of the lead being a priest, which offers up enough moral questions to fill a debate at Sunday school and provides most of the engaging material in the script. Song Kang-ho’s performance reinforces the touchy subject matter by expertly relating his ethical conflict to the audience, and could have come across either unbelievable or comical had it been tackled by a lesser actor. There’s also interesting side-characters – mostly the family members of the female love-interest (Kim Ok-bin), that include an abusive (OR IS HE????) husband, a selfish mother, and enough other dysfunctional supporting relatives to provide Jerry Springer with an interesting (to say the least) show. Each supporting player (whether major or minor) has their own personality and the family dynamics in the early Mah-jong scenes are satisfyingly tense, but also quite humorous and predictably build to a realistic breakdown.
Not bothered about all that? What about all the vampires? That’s what matters! Well “Thirst” is certainly not your typical vampire film, there’s no stakes, garlic, crosses, lack of reflections, Leslie Nielsen, but the staple element is there – blood-sucking. And what a large amount of blood-sucking there is. The scenes involving consensual blood-drinking are the most repulsive and whoever did the sound design for this film needs an award, as the various squelches and slurps really are gag-inducing. Apart from that, the effects work is also fantastic, with enough blood-gushing to satisfy those looking for their gore-fix, even though the film isn’t that way inclined.
The one problem I did have with the vampire element was the way that Kim Ok-bin accepts that Song Kang-ho is a vampire almost straight away, when all he’s done is drink some blood from a tube in a hospital. I mean the last time I ran through town screaming at people that I was a vampire, no-one believed me, and I even had a cape on. It seems that in this world everyone believes in vampires anyway, so it’s no surprise when people claim they are one. That’s the only problem that lies within this area though, as the rest of the vampire lore is handled with a relatively subtle and thus effective and realistic, but also skewed manner – in “Thirst” being a vampire is a disease.
The other problem with the film is Park Chan-wook. Now this may be a matter of personal taste, but sometimes the film veers way too far into surrealism for my liking, and resultantly some sequences in the middle prove overly disorientating. Of course this is Park Chan-wook’s style and is present in his other work, but for some people it may be a bit too distracting (and detracting) and may disrupt the narrative to a certain extent. However, without this problem, we wouldn’t have the opposite. The film would be completely different without Park Chan-wook’s touch and is very much hand-cuffed to his unique vision, and in most cases – is all the better for it.
Overall “Thirst” is a well-worth watching entry into a stale sub-genre that wrings new life out of a subject that has been watered down to pretty men with messy hair sitting on the end of beds looking as though they’re battling with a particularly aggressive turtle-head. “Thirst” brings back the visceral, violent nature of vampire films of the eighties like “Near Dark” but also incorporates the brooding romance of the modern crop of teen-friendly crud to create a hybrid that actually works on enough levels to make it a truly original and refreshing vampire film.
The Region 2 DVD comes with a ‘trailer’ – which seems to be some sort of edited version of the whole movie, taking some of the best bits and putting them in the wrong order but making the film look really good in the process – I hope to see more of these ‘trailers’ soon. It also comes with an interview with Park Chan-wook that I didn’t watch because I assumed there wouldn’t be any action sequences in it.
Chan-wook Park (director) / Seo-Gyeong Jeong, Chan-wook Park (screenplay)
CAST: Kang-ho Song … Priest Sang-hyeon
Ok-bin Kim … Tae-ju
Hae-sook Kim … Lady Ra
Ha-kyun Shin … Kang-woo
In-hwan Park … Priest Noh
Dal-su Oh … Yeong-doo
Young-chang Song … Seung-dae