Thirst

20 Nov

Director: Park Chan-wook (2009)

There is something which must be said for good programming of films, particularly with genre films. With particular reference to vampire films. With the recent deluge of teen romance books romanticising the apparent hoards of young nubile girls ready to betroth themselves to the brooding undead, and their associative film adaptations, it concerns me that the power of the classic vampire film is becoming somewhat diluted.

Placed at the end of a billing opened by Twilight, followed by the stunning Let The Right One In, Park Chan-wook’s Thirst is a perfect example of the genesis of the vampire film. While Thirst may not be as affecting as Let The Right One In, this Korean horror challenges the traditional rules creating a unique interpretation of the vampire myth.

Sang-hyun is a Catholic priest who, beneath the happiness and faith he gives to his ministry, is plagued by feelings of sadness. Escaping to a remote monastery, Sang-hyun volunteers for a dangerous medical trial trying to find a vaccine for the deadly Emmanuel Virus. As he signs the release form, he will soon realise that the phrase ‘signing your life away’ has never been more true than now. The experiment fails, disastrously leaving most of the participants dead – except for Sang-hyun who miraculously heals and survives leading him to become something of a messiah figure as thousands flock to experience his healing powers.

The question is – how did he beat these fatal odds?

After a riotous night of mah-jong with his friend Kang-woo, Sang-hyun find himself increasingly attracted to his friend’s young wife, Tae-ju, who similarly reciprocates these lustful feelings for the man in the dog collar. And considering her husband’s snivelling sickly demeanour it is not all that surprising. But when Sang-hyun suddenly relapses to his more oozing self, a violent side effect of the experiment, his reawakening is more than just coming round from a faint but a coming round to an entirely new way of life.

The pace is slow in Thirst, with a gentle build up watching the cripplingly shy Sang-hyun break through his sexual awakening as lust moves from the flesh to the veins that lie beneath. Thankfully, being a trustworthy man of the cloth works well when you need to have unlimited access to bodies, particularly in hospital. Using patients as living juice boxes fitted with handy intravenous straws, Sang-hyun commits to his new vampiric lifestyle.

Inevitably, Sang-hun and Tae-ju soon dive headfirst into their graphic love affair, with all sympathies pushed under the proverbial rug through the characterisation of Kang-woo who exudes as much sexuality as dehydrated seaweed.  The darkness of Thirst comes not so much in the fact that the protagonist is a vampire but more the direction itself. Typical of Asian horror, Thirst is a great example of atmospheric cinema, particularly getting under the skin of anyone with a fear of water and wet people and also adding to the surprisingly eerie connotations of dripping noses…

But perhaps the most memorable scene, harking back to traditional vampire myths, is the final shot before the credits roll. Shining new light – literally – on vampires, Thirst offers to the ever increasing catalogue of vampire films, a quiet eeriness without resorting to perpetual artery ripping and instead focusing on the gradual psychological decline that is an unfortunate side effect of the vampire disease.

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