South Korean Director Park Chan-Wook shot onto the world cinema stage with the middle part of his revenge trilogy Old Boy (2003), winning the grand jury prize at Cannes, and provoking awe and outrage with it and all of his films to date. It looks as if this is not set to change with the release of Thirst, fresh from Cannes with a second jury prize for Park.
Let us not beat around the bush, Park is an oddball filmmaker, a true eccentric in the vein of David Lynch, and although this is at times a powerful film with grand set pieces and stunning visuals, the film more often than not falls flat.
We follow Father Sang-hyeon (Kang Ho-song) on a missionary trip to Europe, where he wants to help in the desperate attempts to cure the deadly EV virus. He is infected with a strain and used as a guinea pig for attempted cures. So far so realistic, but upon a blood transfusion Sang is cured. Unluckily for him has been given vampire blood, and is now cursed to live on the blood of humans. Much dark humour is derived from this by Park, as Sang attempts to gather his feed through ethical means i.e. not killing, stealing from comatose patients at the local hospital where he works, reading people their last rights and then drinking their blood. Kang So-Song gives a good turn as the morally in limbo Priest/vampire, possessing a chilly melancholy that is unfortunately the only creepy thing about this film.
Horror is defiantly where Park misses the mark, it does not stand up to this year’s other vampire film of note Let the right on in. Lacking both the suspense and tone to create anything near the eerie atmosphere of its Swedish counterpart. As the film progresses the weirdness is turned up, with Sang quitting the order and becoming romantically involved with Tae-joo, a young seamstress with a taste for sado masochism and a truly bizarre family to match. all of whom become integral to Park’s increasingly trying plot, the religious connotations that made the first half interesting are forgotten replaced with dull and tiresome sex scenes.
An interesting premise, but Thirst lacks the things that made films of his like old boy so great, he has left out his philosophical back bone that made for an interesting film. Sure it looks great, has alright acting and good intentions, but it falls flat on its face in the second half, giving in to an absurd story and a heavy handed ending.