If anyone can find a way to craft a spectacular vampire story at a time when the very idea of another could turn the stomach of almost any movie goer, it’s certainly Park Chan-wook. He manages to give us not only a fresh take on the still over saturated genre, but arguably the best to date. Thirst is an absolute masterpiece, and for many outspoken fans it is Parks best film to date (though I have to disagree and give that title to his earlier Mr Vengeance).
Park regular and veteran Korean superstar Song kang-ho stars in a story of a good hearted priest, who after volunteering to test a treatment to a rare and incurable disease gets transformed into a vampire. The strange event begins when he succumbs to a horrific side effect to the treatment he is testing and quickly dies on the doctors table. Though being officially declared dead he miraculously comes back to life in front of all the doctors, and despite still being covered in a terrible skin condition which covered his body with awful lumps, the now completely bandaged priest eventually leaves the hospital and goes home. Upon his departure he is immediately bombarded by religious fanatics who believe him to be a miracle worker, as he is the sole survivor of 500 candidates who volunteered for the same thing.
Trying to move forward with his life, The Priest is one day frantically approached by an older woman (played by Hae-suk Kim) who begs that he help her son who is dying of cancer. Giving into her pleas he agrees to see her son. Turns out this strange woman and her son (another Park regular Shin Ha-kyun) are actually old friends from his youth. With them is a seemingly shy girl (Ok-Bin Kim) named Tae-ju, who The Priest also remembers. She was abandoned by her parents as a child and has been half heartedly raised by the old lady, but treated as much like a pet as she ever was a daughter. Meeting Tae-ju would begin to spark a series of struggles for The Priest, as not only has he been desperately fighting to stay alive by feeding off of blood but without having to kill anyone, he now begins to feel a new since of lust towards Tae-ju, which is strictly against his ascetic ways. He tries to punish himself for having such impure thoughts, but the new vampiric side of him eventually will take control and he eventually decides to abandon his priesthood and try to be with his new love. Unfortunately tae-ju begins to feel a different sense, stuck in a loveless relationship with her adopted mothers own sickly son, she sees The Priest as possible ticket out of her miserable life, and may go too far in her attempt to gain her freedom.
The very idea that such a stale and now uninteresting topic like vampires on screen could be molded in such an incredible fashion is still, after 3 years, very exciting. Park took almost every tired convention and tossed them out the window, and replaced them with his own creative and quirky ideas. Yes there are still some familiar tropes, he is still super strong, and cannot perish by normal means (he tests this theory by literally jumping out a window head first through a windshield of a car below. He was fine) and in this story sunlight will still burn a Vampire, so The Priest must obviously live by night and sleep by day. This time even being a Vampire does not make you immortal. In fact he is actually quite vulnerable when not fully replenished with fresh blood. The cringe worthy skin condition returns, and he grows weaker and weaker until he can feed. Even being a vampire he can still die. So he is forced to use some very clever methods to keep himself fed. In this vampire tale, it’s still common practice to bite into the neck or wrist of the victim to feed; however doing this will not turn his prey into vampires themselves. That requires an actual blood transfusion from his body into someone else’s to successfully turn them.
If you’re a fan of park’s work you will recognize a great deal of familiar faces returning to his film. Most noteworthy would be a brief but enjoyable appearance from Dal-su Oh (best known as the unfortunate recipient of unscheduled dental work in Oldboy) and for course the always great Shin-ha Kyun.
Thirst is an absolute must watch for a number of different people. Park Chan-wook fans of any sort have probably seen this already several times, but if you haven’t, why not? Fans of Vampire tales would still be doing a grave injustice to themselves by not watching this, despite the many changes to tradition. Even though it’s a solid film from beginning to end, the third act acted a very significant event takes place is just incredible, and leads to what is still one of my favorite finales I have seen in any film, and leaves me completely breathless every time.