Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Vampire tales with a twist are very much in vogue. From the godawful prose of Stephanie Mayer's Twilight series, to Alan Ball's well-received but strangely distant television adaptation True Blood, and the recent Tomas Alfredson film adaptation of Let The Right One In - it's clear that the nocturnal blood-suckers are ripe for blending into various storytelling tropes, and with multiple planes of pop-culture.

To this end, Park Chan-wook returns to vampirism after his short film Cut - part of the Three Extremes... series. Park's latest is a story you can tell in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette. A Catholic priest, Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) is a missionary in Africa, and volunteers to undergo experimental treatment for a deadly virus. He receives a blood transfusion and miraculously survives the disease, but shortly after returning, he finds his flesh barbecues in sunlight, he can "Falcon Punch!" lampposts and has an uncontrollable thirst that only human blood will satiate. If he does not feed, the virus will kill him.

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Initially, Sang-hyeon tries to balance his religious convictions with his newly vampiric lifestyle - sucking blood from the drips of comatose hospital patients, and helping those who wish to commit suicide to do so with dignity. But primitive impulses and fears of mortality – repressed by a lifetime of civilisation and God-fearing – come to the fore quickly. Song creates a rich, textured character, perpetually living a cursed life, but trying to find a way of making himself somehow useful and worthy of God's love.

Park presents familiar vampiric tropes in a fresh and interesting way - sunlight scorched bodies, the rejuvinative effect of feeding, the whiff of period blood driving Sang-hyeon's vampire instincts, and his supernatural gifts, such as the ability to leap buildings in a single bound. Heck, even the most rudimentary of dramatic visuals - a sex scene - is spiced up and given demented life by several shots I'm surprised I have never seen before. The movie is laced with black humour and sports clever visual puns and sequences that seems translated wholesale from insane dreams.

Thirst is a very interesting take on the vampire mythos, with plenty of fantastic scenes and a fascinating central character - but it's an uneven film. Certainly, there is much in the middle of the action that fails to engage (a murder subplot that has nothing to do with feeding), and almost all the characters are selfish, too kooky or dislikable twits. This results in a film that feels terribly overlong, but the clever storytelling and complex portrayal of a tortured religious soul more than make up for this flaw.

Reviewed on: 22 Oct 2009
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A man is turned into a vampire by an experimental medical treatment.
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Director: Park Chan-wook

Writer: Jeong Seo-Gyeong, Park Chan-wook

Starring: Song Kang-ho, Kim Ok-vin, Kim Hae-sook, Shin Ha-kyun, Park In-hwan

Year: 2009

Runtime: 133 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


London Korean 2009

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