"It’s an extremely stylish if sparse film – the characters seem self-contained and their world seems to involve few people but themselves."
The whole world seems to have gone vampire crazy lately. Recently we’ve had the stark Let The Right One In, the box office-smashing teenage hit Twilight and the completely misjudged Lesbian Vampire Killers. And with the enduring popularity of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and spin-off Angel which aren’t even on anymore and the new HBO series True Blood, it’s clear that vampires still hold a great deal of fascination for the viewing public.
Korean director Park Chan-wook’s (Old Boy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) Thirst stars a young priest, Sang-hyeon (Kang-ho Song), who volunteers for a medical experiment in order to fight a deadly infectious disease. When he wakes up after a blood transfusion, he finds that he has a disturbing taste for human blood, a reaction to sunlight that even factor 50 wouldn’t help and superhuman strength. However, he still retains his conscience and restricts himself to feeding from comatose patients in a local hospital, lying beside their beds and drinking it from their IV drips like a straw.
The vampiric blood also awakens his more lustful urges, something deeply troubling for the previously celibate priest and he begins an affair with the beautiful Tae-joo (Ok-vin Kim), a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage with a simple husband (Ha-kyun Shin) and a domineering mother-in law (Hae-sook Kim). Their relationship brings new complications as the headstrong Tae-joo doesn’t quite share his passive humanity.
It’s an extremely stylish if sparse film – the characters seem self-contained and their world seems to involve few people but themselves. As a result, it feels simultaneously claustrophobic as well as terribly bleak, peaceful yet oppressive. Park Chan-wook’s hyper-realistic portrayal of consumption holds no bars: slurping and crunching sound effects are heard wincingly close and this combines with the visual style to create something beautiful as well as brutal.
The darkly comic script (and no one does dark better than Park Chan-wook) is frequently hilarious and aided by the strong chemistry between the two leading actors who both deliver excellent performances, the film culminates in a fantastic, almost Laurel and Hardy-esque final scene which is both funny and touching.
However, a major issue is the film’s length. At 133 minutes, it doesn’t have the pace that it should do and takes a long time to really pick up any momentum. Thankfully, once it gets into its stride it’s a captivating and humorous exploration of lust, power, temptation and redemption and a worthy addition to the slew of vampire movies already out there.
It’s an accomplished film, one that Park Chan-wook fans will love and others not familiar with his work will find it challenging but well worth the effort. It makes an ideal companion piece to Let The Right One In, a similarly bleak film which also explores the more unpleasant realities of the oft-romanticised sanguine suckers.
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ok-vin Kim, Hae-sook Kim, Ha-kyun Shin
Director: Park Chan-wook
Release date: October 16
Runtime: 133 minutes
Certificate: UK 18 | US R