‘Thirst’: Arty, gory take on vampirism from South Korea

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, August 13, 2009 6:59pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Like blood from a puncture would, variations on the vampire theme just keep flowing. Yet nobody has made a vampire picture quite like “Thirst,” Park Chan-wook’s slow, gory meditation on the subject.

“Thirst” is a heavy-going experience; it moves like a drugged animal. We begin with a Catholic priest, played by Song Kang-ho, the star of the South Korean monster movie “The Host.”

The mournful cleric volunteers for a new vaccine trial; unfortunately, he contracts the horrifying disease under study and dies.

At first.

Then he wakes up.

After returning to life, he is acclaimed as a miracle healer, even though his wounds — skin eruptions especially — are still with him. These recede, however, whenever he drinks human blood.

His odyssey then veers off into a story line that Park has borrowed from the Emile Zola novel “Therese Raquin.” The priest enters into an affair with a woman (Kim Ok-vin) married to his feeble-minded friend; this unfolds under the watchful eye of her mother-in-law.

By adding literal vampirism to this unholy situation, Park makes explicit what is implied in Zola’s scenario: that people feed off each other’s weaknesses, sometimes sucking each other dry.

Sound like a barrel of laughs?

It’s not, and fans of Park Chan-wook’s “Vengeance” trilogy (especially his mind-blowing 2003 film “Oldboy”) should be prepared for a grim time.

Yet there’s nothing normal or predictable about “Thirst.” Even its grisliest moments are beautifully filmed and it’s too arty to satisfy fans of “Twilight.”

Although I found the film very intriguing, I was also frustrated by its distancing style. At times it just stops to tread water, as though the filmmaker were still deciding about which way the plot was going to advance from there.

Much is redeemed in the final 10 minutes, a bizarre and weirdly funny trip to nowhere for the two vampire lovers. Suddenly Park is right in his groove, and as cool as this movie is, I wish it hadn’t taken 120 minutes to get there.

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