By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Oh vampires… is there any pop culture we can’t find you hiding under? Any mashup or bastardization of your concept you haven’t been subjected to? Any rules you don’t break or powers you don’t have?
You can find answers to all of these in one place, and they are all “Fuck no.”
Back in 2009, we got yet another perspective on the vampire tale- the Korean arthouse one. CouldChan-WookParkinject some fresh blood into a lifeless concept? Well, he starts off promisingly, as jaded priest Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) volunteers as a test subject for a cure to the deadly Emanuel virus. Turns out the cure is vampirism, which conflicts just a tad with his priestly vows. Can he resist the temptation to take human life, or the temptation posed by the strange young wife (Kim Ok-bin) of his landlady’s son?
Strangely enough, this movie reminded me of Dark Shadows, or rather what that movie could have or probably should have been. There’s the same moral dilemmas, bizarre family dynamics, pitch black humor, and even painful 70s interior decorating. Of course, Tim Burton couldn’t never made this film, and we’re lucky Park Chan-wook did. The director of Oldboy brings a similar painterly shooting style, flair for violence and gore, and twisted worldview to Thirst, all of which make logical bedfellows for the vampire genre.
As opposed to, say, this.
Park juggles all of these elements excellently, and it’ll be exciting to see what he can do with a Hollywoodbudget in his next, the Nicole Kidman/Mia Wasikowska-starring, inexplicably non-vampire related Stoker. Besides the beautiful cinematography and direction, season with a wicked sense of humor, what stands out about Thirst is its acting. Song delivers a muted, controlled performance as the main character, a role completely different than the one he handled in The Good, The Bad, and The Weird, as the “Weird.” However, it’s Kim who steals the movie, going from a sullen, repressed girl to a gleefully predatory, incredibly frightening new vampire in the most chilling depiction of the creature I’ve personally ever seen.
Okay, clearly, second most.
Thirst runs for 2 hours and 13 minutes. Now, I’m all for getting more movie for my money, and one thing I’ve noticed on my recent Korean flicks kicks is that they certainly offer that. The downside, though, is a tendency towards saggy, draggy second acts, and Thirst certainly is guilty as charged.
Thirst begins with a trip to a mysterious mission inAfrica, and hints that it will explore themes like faith and religion through the prism of its vampire tale, but in the second act it abandons all of that for twisted family drama. While this new thread ends up paying off, it’s a shame Park doesn’t develop those earlier elements further.
This Korean vampire tale isn’t perfect, but it’s as good as anything in the genre. If you’re a vampire fan, it’s a must-see.
Take a Drink: whenever someone plays mahjong
Take a Drink: whenever you see blood
Take a Drink: whenever you see a vampire trope or stereotype
Take a Drink: whenever someone drinks either blood or alcohol
Do a Shot: for disturbing sex