Given the popularity of the vampire genre and the separate but equally popular Asian horror style, it was inevitable that these two worlds would collide. If what you have in mind is the mind-numbingly popular Twilight as directed by Takashi Shimizu (Ju-On / The Grudge) then you may want to adjust your sights. South Korean director Park Chan-wook serves up a decidedly different take on the world’s favorite blood guzzling monsters. It’s horror from an Asian world view and it is a vampire flick, but Thirst definitely breaks plenty of stereotypes about both styles of film from start to finish.
In case you aren’t familiar with Park Chan-wook, it’s not a bad idea to get acquainted with him. His work includes Joint Security Area and The Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance), some of the finest films from this region of the world. He brings to bear tremendous story telling power, along with a very atmospheric storytelling style, and it really gives us a fresh look into a stereotypical supernatural monster we’ve all seen done dozens of different ways. While Thirst is a horror movie, it’s good to keep in mind that Chan-wook was not setting out to create a pure horror tale and as such, the movie takes plenty of liberties.
The primary premise here is that of a priest who volunteers to help the sick and dying. While he ministers to those who are nearing the exit doors of this world, the priest appears quite devout, but on the inside he is battling growing anxieties over his personal faith in his own beliefs. The constant sights of suffering and torment are doing little to keep his faith alive. He ends up participating in an experimental vaccine project in order to help find a cure for a deadly disease, but instead winds up contracting the disease and in the process, vampirism.
From here, the movie goes on to showcase a love affair gone horribly wrong as the vampiric man of the cloth battles his overwhelming physical urges that compel him beyond his religious ideals. The way the story is told and the film shot, Thirst ends up being everything from gaggingly gory to strangely erotic. The tension here is abnormally high, on an emotional level. There’s something of a swing, that takes place throughout the movie’s course, between to polar opposites. On one end we have the emotional struggles of a very human kind with the priest battling urges that go against his own beliefs, on the other hand we have a normal vampire story with all the normal wicked actions. The horror aspects come in bursts and aren’t exceptionally imaginative, but they are there. How this reviewer thought the combination of approaches worked depended upon where the movie was. It’s one of those movies that fluctuates and you’re not always sure if you like it until the end.
With the story of the vampire there is only so much that any one director can do so the decision to keep things simple worked well for this story, but would not lend itself to sequels or anything beyond this particular film. That being said, it is certainly admirable that Thirst sets out to achieve an actual story that could have stood its ground even without the blood drinking aspects. In all, this is definitely a movie you should see if you enjoy a wide range of vampire interpretations and you’re okay with not being shown anything wildly inventive. It’s also a story you should see if you enjoy compelling drama about existential topics involving human nature.
That, and you know you want to see a vampire priest have a hot, totally depraved affair with his best friend’s wife – don’t worry, we won’t tell.