August 18, 2009


To continue the Park Chan-wook theme here: a review of his latest (and in my humble opinion, best) film. Ever since Oldboy, the Korean auteur’s films have been cause for excitement and rabid anticipation amongst us film nerds with strong stomachs. This was—and is—the case with Thirst as well, heightened by the fact that the world is currently undergoing a resurge of the vampire craze in a big way. I’m happy to report that, if absolutely nothing else, this is indeed a damn awesome vampire movie.

That in itself is the best thing about Thirst. For all its tangents and Catholic-guilt overtones (our leading man is a priest-turned-creature of the night played by Song Kang-ho), the movie is dripping with thrills, sex, and humour. I would go so far as to say it’s more comedy than drama, in fact, which is something the trailers and synopsis’ give no indication of. Considering Park’s last full-length, I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Okay was too light and the Sympathy films that flanked Oldboy were bogged down by their over-ambitiousness, Thirst’s perfect balance feels all the more remarkable. At two and a half hours, it’s not exactly a tight little package, but it uses the time perfectly and never once loses its way.

The aforementioned priest, Sang-hyeon, contracts vamp blood when trying to do some good by volunteering for a medical experiment to cure the EV virus, which manifests in skin boils and vomiting of blood, and eventually death. He’s the only one to survive the experiment because of the circumstances, which makes him a mythic, local hero that the townsfolk worship. Unfortunately, it seems the only way to keep the EV virus (and accompanying skin boils) at bay is to continue to drink human blood and avoid the sun. Loathe to kill anyone—that’s right, he’s one of those tortured vampires ala Angel, or Edward Cullen—Sang-hyeon feeds his “disease” in various amusing ways, including from the IV of a coma patient (his defence of this is that the man “loved to help the hungry!”). The movie gets a lot of mileage out of gags like this, or ones involving the superhuman strength inherited by vampires. You’d be surprised how many times a person carrying/throwing an obscenely heavy object, or snapping a broken bone back into place nonchalantly, can continue to be hilarious.

Soon enough, Sang-hyeon meets up with a buffoonish childhood friend and finds himself lusting after his wife, Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin). This is when things really kick off, and their relationship has to be one of the most delightful to watch in the genre, thanks in no small part to Kim. Her Tae-ju is so joyously evil, unapologetic and cunning, I could have continued to watch her wreak havoc for another couple of hours and not complained. Thirst is mostly just episodes of the pair gallivanting, Sang-hyeon trying to keep his Frankenstein in check, and Tae-ju always threatening to go just a little bit more off the rails than she already is. Buckets of blood later, is an absolutely stellar ending that’s funny, sad, and sweet all at once.

If you’re expecting a quiet meditation on the repressive nature of the Catholic religion, look elsewhere. By the same token, it’s not a scary movie either. The villains are our heroes, and we’re encouraged to laugh and clap along, gleefully—not be terrified by them. Bottom line, if you get a kick out of this sort of thing, you’ll have a rough time finding a movie that does it as pitch-perfectly as this one. See it on the big screen, if you can.


  1. Your review is like a literary trailer! I had completely the wrong impression of this film until I did see the first non-subbed trailer; it gives off equal parts fantasy & gravity. Can't wait 'till it get here in a couple of weeks.

  2. I'm not sure what that means, lol. Too much plot description? I felt it necessary to set up my mentions of certain scenes.

    I predict you'll have a blast!

    Btw, I was content for this blog to just be a little filing cabinet for reviews sort of deal, but now I think we should actually invite more people. If you have anyone in mind, go for it. I don't post much on RT anymore so my resources are drying up, but I'll look for more too. :D

  3. Ha. Nothing insidious, I promise. Just that if someone stumbles into your review or never sees the trailer, this would fire them up sufficiently!

    Yeah, I haven't posted on RT (or any forum for that matter) in some time, so I'm at a loss for invites. The reality, I think, is that everyone who would has their own blogs!! That and my friends could care less about reviewing movies; maybe I need new friends...

  4. Teresa,

    I just read a couple of your reviews over at Twitch and had to hunt you down for more. You have such a pleasant writing style, just enough expo, info and personality. Not to mention, you write positively about films that I really want to see, fueling my anticipation even more.

    Seems you have a number of outlets going. Is this the best place to stay abreast of your latest musings on film?

  5. Thanks, sitenoise, that is so nice to hear! This is where I write about Asian movies only--however that does make up most of what I watch. There are also two other contributors here (Shaun and Josh), so I can't take all the credit! Hopefully I'll be writing more for Twitch in the future, too.

    I also checked out your blog. Good stuff, and I'll be sure to pop by there again to see what you have to say.

  6. So I finally got to see this and unfortunately it really let me down. I was upset for days afterward. There's a point where I feel like Park just wants to push buttons, I don't know ... Kim Ok-vin was fun when she finally hit the dark side but that didn't happen until almost 90 minutes in and then there wasn't any story left. The ending was kind of cute/funny/touching but I was just so glad it arrived I didn't participate in it much. Oh well.

  7. That's too bad! I loved it (obviously) and thought it was delightful all the way through. Are you a Park fan in general? As for pushing buttons, I think this is much less offensive than the Vengeance trilogy.

  8. Love, love JSA and Cyborg, and think the Trilogy has a lot of merit, so yes, a fan. Certainly this was one of the most anticipated films of the year. I watched it with a group of like-minded fans and we were all kind of stunned into silence and then began mocking the film (I didn't start that), and the sad fact is, once you start down that path it's hard to get off, so the last act didn't get a fair shake. I may try it again at some point, as Song Kang-ho is a most favorite actor.

    Anticipation and pushing buttons are tough cookies. Antichrist was in the same boat but I thought that delivered, even exceeded expectations.

    Now we eagerly await The Clone Returns and Enter the Void.

  9. Terrific review! Between you and Amy Taubin, I'm convinced I need to see this one in a hurry, even though I'm far from a fan of what I've seen of PC-W's prior work.