It’s said if you stare at something for more than four seconds, other people start staring at it too. This is especially unfortunate for vampires. They survive on remaining unnoticed. In Thirst, famed Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park (Oldboy) bites into the vampire myth by asking “How would a vampire have to survive in society today?” This isn’t a new question–it’s actually a very popular question of late. But Park has a decidedly darker take than Twilight; darker even than True Blood or Let the Right One In. His aesthetic is very much his. It’s almost as if Park said, “You think you know the vampire myth? You have no idea…” Find out what I mean after the jump.
Thirst tells the story of Sang-hyeon (Kang-ho Song, also the star of Joon-ho Bong’s The Host), a priest who commits to a medical experiment that aims to find the cure for EV–a virus that causes victims to break out in boils, cough blood, and ultimately die. As he’s about to succumb to the virus, Sang-hyeon is brought back by a last-minute blood transfusion from (unbeknownst to all involved) a vampire. Thus he survives the unsurvivable and becomes Korea’s “bandaged saint.”
Enter the Ra family. Kang-woo Ra is dying of a rare cancer, and his mother begs for prayers from Sang-hyeon. The priest visits the patient, and when Kang-woo’s cancer clears away, the Ra family takes Sang-hyeon in out of gratitude. Little do they expect the priest to fall for Kang-woo’s wife, Tae-ju. And, of course, an affair ensues.
This film is very sexual, but it’s not the kind of vampiric sexuality we get from something like True Blood. No, the sex in Thirst is intensely desexualized and unappealing. There is an emphasis on sound over visuals, with lots of visceral sucking and popping noises. But the grossness of the sex is right in line with the grossness of the rest of the film: the boils, the blood, the violence.
In spite of this, however, or perhaps because of it, Thirst may be my favorite vampire film of all time. The film has a clear, unified vision, and it’s beautiful. Visually, it’s certainly the coolest vampire story I’ve ever seen, and story-wise or thematically, it’s the most realistic impression of a modern-day blood sucker there is.
Thirst is not for the weak. This isn’t a watered down vampire tale, so it requires a strong stomach (don’t eat while watching). If you like Chan-wook Park films, you’ll love Thirst. If you like vampire movies, you might not. There isn’t really anything in the way of bonus features to speak of, but the film itself makes this DVD more than worth a buy–that is, if you can stomach it.