Twilight fans, take note: the alleged vampires in your books and movies are not real vampires. Vampires don't sparkle in the sun, they burn. They don't feast on game meat, they only desire human blood. Oh, and they're not very nice. Chan-wook Park knows this. That's why the twisted director with twisted ideas has made one of the most disturbing, strange and authentic vampire movies in recent history. Too bad it's about a half an hour too long.
Thirst stars Kang-ho Song as Priest Sang-hyeon who, for some unexplained reason, volunteers himself for a risky experiment involving a deadly pathogen. He's the only survivor of the trial. He soon learns that the boils all over his body - and his unimaginable thirst - are quenched by drinking human blood, and he sets up a process to get by without killing a soul. But when he falls for a depressed wife of a former patient at the hospital where he works, his morals are put to the test as sex, lust, jealousy and more motivate him to commit new, disturbing actions.
As with all Chan-wook Park movies, you know Thirst is going to be two things: 1) very weird, and 2) f**ked up. Thirst is both, though it may live up to goal #1 a little too well.
For a vampire movie that adheres to most of the basic rules, Thirst is impressively unique in its concept and execution. The slow transition of Sang-hyeon from an innocent priest to something else entirely is a master stroke, thanks to another pitch perfect performance by Kang-ho and clever direction by Chan-wook. The movie looks and feels great, and once again Chan-wook slips in some memorable, unique shots that enhance the overall emotion of the film.
As good as the elements are, Thirst suffers from some pacing issues. At two hours and 13 minutes, the movie feels really long; 20 to 30 minutes should have been shaved (somehow) to tighten up the story. Chan-wook goes overboard halfway through with several psychological elements; had he taken the movie the mental route and stuck with the concept through the end, it might have been something, but since he didn't, the hallucination sequences (which are his trademark) were unnecessary. They did look cool, though.
Ultimately, though, it just takes Chan-wook a really long time to get to the point.
When he does, though, the final half hour turns out to be deliciously bloody and entertaining. The magic is that Chan-wook never lets Thirst devolve into a standard horror-thriller; each minute of the climax is properly executed and purposeful.
The highlight of the movie is Ok-bin Kim, who turns in a great performance as Tae-ju. She starts out as the damsel in distress, quickly turns into a sensual temptress and then slowly transitions into a surprisingly creepy and psychotic creature of darkness.
Thirst is a good movie and if you can get through the meandering middle section, you're in for a tasty red treat. But Thirst is no Oldboy, and it does have that middle section to deal with. For those reasons, it never gets to completely sink its fangs in.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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