My life is a never ending streak of conundrums I have to solve. One could say this is what life is all about. Henry Rollins said "Half of life is fucking up, the other is dealing with it.". Here's my problem here. I loathe vampire movies. Not only the sparkly crap spawned by Stephenie Meyer's mind. I've been loathing them since Anne Rice tapped into success with the odd idea that the main vampire activity is bisexual orgy, that may or may not include the presence of children. To me, the vampire genre peaked with the Hammer Film era. Anything below Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi is disappointing. This mountain of prejudice kept me from watching THIRST for about three years. That's a problem, because I love Chan-wook Park. If I had ten movies to bring to a desert island, I'd probably choose SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE. That's how ravenously in love I am with his films. The idea of Park doing a vampire movie is heartbreaking to me, but for the sake of Korea cinema, I had to try.
But THIRST isn't just a vampire movie. It's more complicated than that.
At its core, THIRST is a retelling of Émile Zola's novel THERESE RAQUIN...with vampires. If two wrongs can ever make a right, it's by making a contemporary hybrid of an old, painful story with an even older concept that's about to crumble under the tidal wave of diluted, commercial spinoffs. So the protagonist here is a priest named Sang-hyeon (Song), who's volunteering at a hospital with hopeless patients. Struck by the vapid nature of what he was doing, Sang-hyeon signs up as a guinea pig to find a vaccine for the deadly Emmanuel Virus, in hope to help people find real relief. The experience backfires and he falls very ill, but he's mysteriously saved by a blood transfusion. Blood is the secret. He finds himself feeling better than ever before and prey to intense bodily desires. A childhood friend shows up with his wife and mother at church, one night and invite Sang-hyeon over. He quickly realizes his friend is a dumbass and his wife Tae-Ju (Kim) lives a painful existence with him. Sang-hyeon has the opportunity to do some real good for a girl he really likes, but it would require a hell lot of sacrifice from him.
Did I tell you I love Chan-wook Park? I will tell you another time. I, platonically, love the hell out of this man. I'd get him drunk any day of the week. Not only the man is a visual artist, he's also one hell of a storyteller and has integrity too. THIRST is first and foremost a movie that Park owns and controls. It bears his seal of quality before anything else. It shows the monstrous nature of vampires. Because that's what they are supposed to be, right? Monsters, demons of the night, citizens of another world. They do not mesh well with humans and are prey to their desires. That's what a vampire is, in a nutshell. There is a LOT of blood in THIRST. Innocents are killed. I love how Park changed the apartment of Tae-ju's family from before and after her transformation, signifying the passage into another existence in a very spectacular fashion. Park has these long shots where absolute carnage is happening right in the middle of the screen, in seemingly calm rooms, in good Asian cinema fashion. It's always fascinating. I've been literally watching dozens of directors do it and it keeps its freshness and Park does it best.
I'm still not in love with vampires. I've fallen out of love with ready-made monsters a long time ago. But if they are to be used for cinematographic purpose, they have to be filmed, presented a certain way. It's not a fucking emotional barrier. It's not racial difference. It's a curse that attacks the core of your being. THIRST understands that. Plus, it uses the plot of THERESE RAQUIN to its advantage and turns it into a violent extravaganza of retribution. I'm not spoiling the ending, but it's very Korean (those who watched many Korean movies will know what I mean). Chan-wook Park has a knack for down-note, poetic endings and THIRST is no different. I don't hold it as dear as Mr. Vengeance in my heart, but I had a whopping good time watching Park's latest flick. He's a director who never disappoints, no matter what the movie is about. He could shoot a documentary about volcanoes in Iceland and make it cool.