THIRST (2009) – The Dungeon Review!
Thirst has been on my “to see” list for quite some time. I really enjoyed director Chan-wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy and his segment Cut from Three…Extremes. I was intrigued to see what he would do with a vampire film. The problem is there have been far too many wishy-washy vampire films with romance at their core. What can I say? I just haven’t been very excited about this sub-genre lately. However, having recently checked out Jim Mickle’s excellent Stake Land I am feeling reinvigorated about bloodsuckers. Add a month of non-stop zombie flicks and I was finally ready to check out Thirst. While a love story may be at Thirst’s core, I’m pleased to tell you that it still manages to have some bite!
Priest Sang-hyeon martyrs himself as a test subject for an experimental vaccine. He dies from the disease but a blood transfusion returns him from the dead. Sang-hyeon finds himself overcome with sinful desires and a thirst for blood.
Priest Sang-hyeon goes through a discovery period with his infliction that is fairly par for the course. He discovers his power, abilities and his thirst for blood and needless to say faces some moral quandaries about the whole business. The character is a priest after all so questioning of religion and morality does come into play. If he was really all that torn up about it he could have ended it all immediately by just walking out into the daylight. But than we wouldn’t have a movie would we? Is it possible our priest is actually enjoying his new found power? Of course a priest returning from the dead does attract some attention. Some of the locals hound Sang-hyeon believing he received a gift from god. Sang-hyeon, despite his act of martyrdom early in the film seemed cold as a priest. He seems to develop a more genuine empathy for human beings as a vampire than he ever did as a priest. For all Thirst’s character development I did question some of Sang-hyeon’s decisions. He seems to have a reasonable grasp on his infliction and is very careful in respect to his bloodletting but when it comes to taking his friends wife as a lover he seems to fold like a cheap suit.
A childhood friend invites Sang-hyeon to join a weekly Mah Jong game which is where he meets his friend’s wife Tae-ju. Tae-ju is morbidly unhappy in her loveless marriage. She runs late at night through the city streets in her bare feet as an outlet from her oppressive life. Sang-Hyeon is clearly attracted to Tae-ju on sight. The stage is set for forbidden love. Sang-hyeon and Tae-ju have sex that is messy, kinky, ravenous and sweetly passionate. The sex scenes manage to be as tender as they are violent. This is a film for grown-ups so you can expect full frontal nudity and sex scenes that are actually sexy. The chemistry between these two characters is absolutely electric. Of course a forbidden relationship between a vampire priest and his friend’s wife is bound to have consequences.
Sang-hyeon divulges to Tae-ju that he is a vampire. She is initially horrified but is soon begging Sang-hyeon to turn her. Tae-ju is full of pent-up aggression and an overwhelming need to be free from her life. Despite their intimate connection Tae-ju and Sang-hyeon are clearly a bad match. Sang-hyeon knows Tae-ju is not afraid to lie and manipulate to get what she needs. It wouldn’t be a stretch for Tae-ju to kill for what she needs either. Sang-hyeon nonetheless turns Tae-ju and not surprisingly she adapts quickly to vampire life and wreaks unholy hell. Tae-ju cheekily says to Sang-hyeon “A willing victim? What’s the point of that?”
Chan-wook Park’s approach is not at all heavy handed and is, in fact, full of darkly comic moments. Thirst is downright playful at times. Tae-ju’s character becomes positively giddy about being a vampire and adds a lot of energy and fun to the proceedings. The film becomes a more or less straight-up horror film in the second half. Thirst ended up being more of a horror-oriented film than I was expecting from the director. The effects looked good and there is no lack of the red stuff once it starts flowing. Thirst also benefits a great deal from its performances. Kang-ho Song is quickly becoming one of my favourite actors. He was outstanding in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, The Host and The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Song gives another amazing and memorable performance as Priest Sang-hyeon in Thirst. Ok-bin Kim is stellar as Tae-ju. Kim only has a handful of acting credits but handles herself like a pro with a genuineness and confidence. Besides a minor issue with some of Sang-hyeon’s decisions I did find the ending a tad anticlimactic. The ending was pretty much inevitable and would have surprised me had it ended any other way.
I expected the film to get bogged down at some point with its two hour plus runtime but the film kept me enthralled throughout. Thirst apparently was “inspired” by the book Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola. I have never read the book but I did pull this summary from Wikipedia which is more or less identical to Thirst’s basic plot. (Taken from Wikipedia) Thérèse Raquin tells the story of a young woman, unhappily married to her first cousin by an overbearing aunt who may seem to be well-intentioned but in many ways is deeply selfish. Therese’s husband, Camille, is sickly and egocentric, and when the opportunity arises, Thérèse enters into a turbulent and sordidly passionate affair with one of Camille’s friends, Laurent.” I haven’t mentioned the mother of Tae-ju’s husband but as previously noted, this plot summary is practically identical to Thirst’s. Zola’s story is not about vampires of course, that is a twist Park added. Thirst is a thoroughly modern tale and Zola’s book was written in 1867 so I suspect outside of the basic plot there wouldn’t be too many parallels one could draw. But like I said, I have never read the book.
I wouldn’t say Chan-wook Park reinvents the wheel with Thirst. The vampire mystique is pretty standard cinematic fare. Nonetheless Thirst is an engrossing vampire tale full of dark humour, tragedy, beauty and violence. Excellent performances from its two leads Kang-ho Song and Ok-bin Kim are worth the price of admission. Highly recommended.
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Chan-wook Park
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ok-bin Kim, Eriq Ebouaney, Hae-sook Kim, Ha-kyun Shin, In-hwan Park, Dal-su Oh, Young-chang Song, Seung-dae, Mercedes Cabral