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Thirst (Bakjwi - 2009)

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Posted 14th November 2009 at 04:20 PM by Philleh

Thirst (Bakjwi - 2009)
Focus Features

The vampire genre, as we all know, has arisen from its coffin once again Ė thanks, some may say, to a Mormon. Though I donít see Twilight as the saviour of the genre, I like to think Alan Ball and his excellent adaptation of Charlaine Harrisí Southern Vampire series, True Blood, is the saving grace behind the re-birth. Itís the anti-Twilight in everyway, and everything vampirism should be; dark, brooding, dangerous and sexual Ė not sparkly and fluffy! Regardless of which side you root for, the genre is truly alive and kicking. So when news broke that Korean mega-director Chan-wook Park was to make a vampire film; it was a guarantee that it would be worth our time.

Park regular Song Kang-ho stars as Sang-hyun, a Priest who has grown tired of living in a world full of suffering and death. He wants to help those who come to him; he volunteers his body to scientists in hopes of finding a cure for a deadly new virus, the Emmanuel Virus. Of the 50 volunteers, he is the sole survivor; yet he did die. During the experiment, it transpires, he was exposed to infected blood Ė vampire blood. The man of God is now a servant of Satan, yet people who hear of his recovery believe him to be a saviour and healer; yet he feeds off the vulnerable in order to survive.

Blood isnít the only thing he lusts for however, he begins an affair with Tae-ju, the wife of an old friend. As the two grow closer, Sang-hyun comes clean about his disease and Tae-ju admits to her misery within her marriage and her life; her abusive mother-in-law treats her like a dog and her husband treats her worse. Suspicious markings on her legs indicate abuse which drives Sang-hyun into a rage and they plot the demise of her husband. The three take a fishing trip and only Sang-hyun and Tae-ju return; as guilt sets in about the death the relationship breaks down and truths are revealed that lead to more death, and the turning of Tae-ju into a vampireÖ a very aggressive, angry vampire who has no qualms with taking innocents lives.

Thirst will have audiences talking, thereís no question that this will be one of 2009ís most talked about movies. At 133 minutes in length itís too long, and a film with this many subtleties will require repeat viewings, but itís a lengthy proposition that many may not wish to partake. The middle section is the film biggest flaw, it runs a good 20 minutes longer than it should; yet it never feels aimless as its this section that adds the punch as the film draws to its blood-soaked finale. The film has so much going on that it sometimes feels like three films in one; itís a Shakespearean tragedy, a dark romantic-comedy and a horror movie rolled into one.

As you would expect from a man of Parks stature the film is, from a technical stand-point, a marvel. It looks stunning, each frame is a work of art and his palate is a perfect contrast of dark, earthy colours and burning, bright counterparts. The actors give it their all and Song Kang-ho delivers his best performance since 2003ís Memories of Murder. He certainly has stiff competition from the marvellous Kim Ok-bin, who portrays a character that Lady Macbeth would bow-down to. Shin Kyun-ha is underused as Tae-juís, constantly ill, husband; yet his unique facial expressions leave an impact on the viewer in a number of surreal set-pieces that are guaranteed to linger in your mind after viewing.

Thirst is also shockingly frank in its depictions of sex, we have come to expect hard-hitting violence, but thanks to the American backing Park has now been able to shake some of the shackles of the South Korean industry in terms of sex. Sex here isnít titillating though, itís used as a weapon and comes across as a need, itís not a pleasure for Sang-hyun who tries to repress his urges through self-harm; sickened by his new-found carnality. This is where the movie truly rewards; itís created a tragic couple that would have Shakespeare applauding. Despite all their flaws, theyíre characters youíll care about, remember and want to re-visit.

Complex, compelling and rewarding, Thirst is one of 2009ís best pictures. Itís Parkís best film since Oldboy and one that will unfold and get better the more its viewed. Slow middle section aside, this is the only modern-day vampire film that can rival Swedish masterpiece, Let the Right One In. Let the tweens and scenesters have their New Moon, real fans of vampire films know where the real innovative and rewarding material can be found, and its right here. This is the direction horror needs to go, delving deep into the hearts and souls of it characters and telling us a story that we can all truly relate too and appreciate. Those who like their vampires to sparkle will want to stay clear of this movie entirely.

Written and Directed by: Chan-wook Park

Song Kang-ho - Sang-hyun
Kim Ok-bin - Tae-ju
Shin Kyun-ha - Kang-woo
Kim Hae-suk - Lady Ra

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