Original title: Bakjwi
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Kim Ok-bin, Kim Hae-sook
Director Park Chan-wook's previous film, Oldboy, was a huge fan favourite and helped cement his place as one of the most interesting Korean directors working today. And for me personally, that film remains one of my all-time favourite Korean movies.
Hearing that Thirst, his new film, had a vampiric theme subsequently had me in eager anticipation all year. What can one of the most exciting directors in Asia bring to the well-established, and frequently all too predictable, vampire genre?
As it turns out, Park has chosen not to mess with the established standards of vampire mythology - they still burn in sunlight and feast on the warm blood of humans - but aside from that, Thirst is a refreshingly original take on the genre.
Firstly, our vampiric protagonist Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) is also a devout priest with a penchant for self-flagellation. Having volunteered for a dangerous medical research position, he becomes infected with the lethal flesh-eating Emanuel virus.
For reasons that are a little unclear, he decides to drink the blood of another patient, which miraculously allows him to survive the infection. However the respite is temporary, and regular 'top-ups' are required. It seems that the blood that saved him had an unexpected side-effect - vampirism!
In any case, soon enough our main man, riddled with virus and vampire blood coursing through his veins, starts hallucinating. This adds a surrealistic touch to proceedings as the story starts its descent into feverishly twisted depths.
While grappling with his newfound vampire status and loss of faith, he begins an illicit affair with Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), the wife of one of his childhood friends, and its not long before they're getting it on at every opportunity. Seems poor Tae-ju has been deprived of lovin' for far too long!
Not to give too much away, the film then follows the duo's burgeoning relationship ... and in the time-honoured tradition of vampire movies, rest assured there's loads of sex and blood, and the odd bit of ultra-violence thrown in for good measure. Just what we here at Twisted Flicks are rather fond of!
As previously mentioned, the movie has quite a surreal feel to it, especially towards the end, and a twisted sense of absurdist humour is sprinkled throughout. In fact in the last half hour especially the movie is extremely funny, in no small part due to the fantastic acting of Kim Ok-bin who I'll definitely be watching out for in the future.
There are some great special effects, used intelligently and in context, and it must be noted that using wirework in a vampire movie may be one of the rare occasions in Asian films that absurd flying skills actually make sense.
As can be seen by the screencaps included below, Park doesn't let us down in the cinematography department either, with the visuals often being stunning and artfully composed. No doubt this is a master at work.
All this being said, I suspect that the audience who will enjoy this will be small. But those who might appreciate it know who you are, and its probably why you read this blog. For what its worth, the film took home a special jury prize at Cannes.
Twisted Flicks rating: 9/10