Let’s try a scenario on for size: boy meets girl; obstacles prevent them from being together; boy and girl get together any way; a major obstacle puts their clandestine relationship under strain; things change between them.
Old as the hills, right? Seen it all before.
Now let’s layer in a little context. For “boy meets girl” read “priest meets married woman”. For “obstacles” … well, hell, he’s a priest and she’s a married woman. For major obstacle, take your pick from: (a) the priest is also a vampire; (b) the married woman is treated as a slave by her adoptive mother, the sickly and simpleton son of whom she has been forced into marriage with; (c) the married woman would quite like the vampire priest to kill the hell out of the sickly, simpleton husband and, oh yeah, turn her into a vampire while he’s at it; (d) the priest is really having a hard time with the whole being a vampire thing, let alone getting into the husband-disposal business; or (e) all of the above.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to ‘Thirst’. It ain’t fucking ‘Twilight’.
In fact, it ain’t like any other vampire film you’re ever likely to see, and – yes – I am including the works of Jean Rollin, Jose Larrez and Harry Kumel in that rather bold statement.
The reason I feel confident in making said statement is that ‘Thirst’ is directed by Chan-wook Park, and the man doesn’t make films like anyone else, period. Chan-wook Park is a trail-blazing cinematic talent as unique, maverick, instantly identifiable and (quite possibly) as bonkers as Werner Herzog. This is the man who completely deconstructed and re-imagined the vigilante genre in his jaw-droppingly awesome trilogy ‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance’, ‘Oldboy’ (one of the greatest head-fucks in the whole of cinema) and ‘Lady Vengeance’. This is the man who made the jaw-plummetingly one-of-a-kind ‘I’m a Cyborg … But That’s Okay’, a film that plays out like ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ meets ‘The Terminator’ on a first date where they go and see a revival of ‘Brief Encounter’. Then drop acid. While on another planet.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that Chan-wook Park does things a tad differently. And he certainly does the vampire movie very differently. I’ve already said that it ain’t ‘Twilight’. Well, it ain’t ‘Nosferatu’, ‘Dracula’, ‘The Lost Boys’, ‘Near Dark’, ‘Let the Right One In’ or ‘True Blood’, either. To start with, our vampire isn’t an aristocrat, a frat boy teenager, a hardass redneck, a creepy Swedish kid or a Suth’n gennelman with a penchant for barmaids in the kind of tee-shirt/hotpants ensemble that makes your average Hooters girl look like a nun. No, siree, our partaker of the type-O negative is one Father Sang-hyeon (Kang-Ho Song). He doesn’t get infected by a bite to the neck courtesy of another vampire, but from a blood transfusion after he falls victim to a supposedly incurable disease whilst ministering to a mission hospital dedicated to those dying from it. Once turned, he doesn’t go out into the dark and shadowy, latching himself to the first available throat and slurping it down like an alcoholic locked in a brewery overnight. Au contraire, he hangs around hospitals, siphoning off the odd half pint here and there from comatose patients. No neck/teeth interface, either; he simply lies on the floor and lets an IV tube and gravity do the work for him.
The romantic element of the film is just as offbeat. Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim) initially comes across as a downtrodden and mistreated heroine, the kind of put-upon waif you could imagine stepping living and breathing from the pages of a Catherine Cookson novel. She then turns into a shag-happy femme fatale type. And not gradually, either. By the end of the film …
Ah, but that would be telling.
There’s so much I want to say about ‘Thirst’, from the awesome set design (particularly when … oh bollocks, that would be telling) to the stunning admixture of tension, blackly comic absurdity and curious poeticism in the scene where Sang-hyeon and Tae-ju … but that, also, would be telling.
And then there’s the denouement. Which I mustn’t tell you about, even though I want to scream a detailed description of every wonderful, inspired and straight-up demented moment of it from the highest rooftop. It’s something you just have to see for yourself. It’s pure genius and could only have come from the mind of Chan-wook Park.
Which is an apt description of his entire filmography.