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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 25%
Average: 33.33%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Thirst (2009)
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by Jay Seaver

"Makes vampires sexy, funny, tragic, and exciting again."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I wish I could take credit for this line, but it was the lady in the next seat over who turned to me after the Fantasia screening of "Thirst" and said "isn't it cool to see a vampire movie that's not all gothy?"

Believe it or not, it is. It means Park Chan-wook is doing the sort of movie he's good at: The sort where, even when horrible things happen, there may be something funny about it, and not in an ironic, self-conscious way. The sort where things happen in bright light and full color. And the sort where, instead of moping over the tragic ironies of their lives, the characters go out and do stuff - sometimes noble, sometimes horrible, but always interesting.

Friar Hyan Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) is a good man; he ministers to the ill at a Seoul hospital, and counsels heartbroken nurses against suicide. Wanting to do more, he volunteers to test an experimental vaccine for Emmanuel Virus (EV), a nasty flesh-eating disease. The experiment is a tragic failure, as he's the only one of 500 to survive. But it's not the miracle it appears to be - he was somehow transfused with vampire blood. The vampirism holds the EV in check, along with having the usual side effects. And it's not just his appetite for blood that he's having trouble holding back - he's feeling a strong drive to do things that a Catholic priest, especially, shouldn't be doing.

Enter Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin). The onetime foster sister, now wife, of Sang-hyun's childhood friend Kang-woo (Shin Ha-kyun) is immensely dissatisfied with her life, running around the neighborhood barefoot at night just for a moment's escape. She's immediately attracted to the newly-virile priest, who should beware - an unhappy wife can be just as dangerous as a hungry vampire.

That's the basic set-up; after Park gets that in place, Thirst meanders a little. It's not that he doesn't know what to do with the story so much as once a situation has played out a little, it leads to a new situation where it might be fun to see what happens next, and so on. Yes, a far more direct path could be taken to the end from almost-the-end, but then you'd miss the demented-sitcom stuff, which contains a rich vein of gold, leading up to a final scene that somehow manages to be both tragic and playful, displaying the same this-leads-to-this-leads-to-this of the rest of the movie in microcosm. In fact, it occasionally seems that Park and co-writer Jeong Seo-gyeong are trying to make a vampire film that is everything but a horror movie - there's a lot more black comedy, melodrama, and suspense than there is fear.

Like his story, Park's camera wanders freely, though not in the dizzying way he favors on occasion. It will just occasionally wander around a room, frame something through a door left ajar, or otherwise capture a world that is far off-kilter. Or capture a lot of skin; in a movie about lusts run wild, Park doesn't hold much back at all (there was early speculation that relative unknown Kim got the part because doing a film with this much nudity could be a career-killer in Asia), where either sex or violence is concerned.

The two main characters are fine when good, and then amazing when bad. Song Kang-ho invests Sang-hyun with an almost pathological need to do good that can serve as his undoing as both a man and a vampire. We see both genuine pain and delight from him when he inevitably falls short of his high standards. It's expected of Song, who is a mainstay of some of Korea's biggest directors (not just Park, but Kim Ji-woon and Bong Joon-ho, too). And then there's Kim Ok-vin, who reaches out and grabs the audience as Tae-ju, selling her first as a miserable, hopeless woman before letting her repressions free in a way that makes her funnier, sexier, and more dangerous all at once. It's a big, go-for-broke performance that constantly entertains but never feels false.

If not for last year's "Let the Right One In", I'd probably be calling "Thirst" the best vampire film in years. It's a totally different beast from that Swedish masterpiece, a live wire jumping about on the ground from the raw electricity coursing through it. It's bawdy, thought-provoking, funny, and sad, and I wouldn't have it be any one of them at the expense of the others.

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originally posted: 07/13/09 15:20:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2009 Festival de Cannes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/19/11 moose rapper This why Wook-Park rocks 5 stars
10/02/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess This disturbing pitch-black comedy is everytihing the 'Twilight' series should have been 5 stars
3/18/10 mr.mike With a heavy heart , I say it is only for Park completists. 3 stars
1/16/10 Sevarian Not as great as the vengeance trilogy but damned good! 5 stars
8/11/09 menten exciting, thrilling and thought-provoking.. 5 stars
8/02/09 Ming A wacky type of horror film...The plot is a little hard to understand in the beginning. 3 stars
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  31-Jul-2009 (R)
  DVD: 17-Nov-2009


  DVD: 17-Nov-2009

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