Thirst comes to DVD

Sunday, 14 March 2010 13:28

South Korean director Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”, “I’m a Cyborg”) likes to shake up tired and clichéd genres, throwing a little chaos into the mix. “Thirst” is a vampire movie quite unlike anything else out there, though it does have similarities to the equally innovative “Let The Right One In” and “True Blood”.

Song Kang-ho (“The Host”, “The Good, the Bad, the Weird”) stars as Father Sang-hyun, an utterly selfless man who, finding himself frustrated that he cannot save the gravely ill, volunteers to take part in a dangerous medical trial for a viral antidote. Forty-nine other people have already died, but this does not deter him. Things look very bad for the priest when a mass of angry boils form on his skin and he starts coughing up blood, but – following a rushed blood transfusion – he appears to make a miraculous recovery. In fact, he feels better than ever, but there is a sting in the tail.

Thirst on DVDThe blood he was given came from a vampire, and in order to stay fit and alive (undead), Sang-hyun must regularly drink the red stuff. Being a priest, he tries to do this as morally as possible, which usually means taking from his willing monastery colleague, or supping from the intravenous drip of a comatose patient whose recovery he prays for on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, the people think he has been given a miraculous gift from Heaven, and so they flock to him for blessings and healing. Things become more complicated after Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin), the depressed and repressed wife of an old friend seeks help and companionship from him. Temptation, bloody thirst and superhuman powers challenge his chaste values as events spiral out of control, and can only lead to tragedy.

“Thirst” starts out as a darkly comedic and breezy supernatural tale. His discovery of his new condition, and the powers and weaknesses associated with it leads to a sequence of amusing and creatively imagined scenes. For example, on feeling the new energy coursing through his veins, the priest is aroused by women and opts to beat his man parts down with his recorder to suppress his desire.

Things are not all positive for the Father, though. Soon after recovering from his near-death experience, he finds that the symptoms of the deadly virus rapidly return, starting with the pustules on his face and hands. He chances on the discovery (guided by his new-found thirst) that drinking blood reverses the sickly onset, and – like Dorian Gray - enters into a constant fight with both the subdued virus and his vampiric curse.

He manages this battle pretty well until Tae-ju enters the scene, and the evolving interplay between them powers the narrative for the rest of the film. It is a beguiling relationship, with the balance of power shifting to and fro, and an underlining sense of inevitability about where it will ultimately go. As he says in the disc’s interview, Chan-wook tried to maintain a fairly constant sense of dignity and piety to the character of the priest, but the same can definitely not be said for Tae-ju. She starts off being a down-trodden mute who is bossed around and has no life to speak of. Her relationship with Sang-hyun awakens her womanly desires and opens her eyes to her predicament.

Both actors perfectly embody their characters; Kang-ho alternates effortlessly between the quiet, giving priest and the energized superman; Ok-vin magnificently captures her arc from lifeless husk to sex-crazed woman and way beyond.

The film underplays the vampire’s abilities for some time before letting rip with the action and special effects. For the most part, all we see are sealing-up wounds and fading boils to signify Sang-hyun’s healing powers, and the subtle steam rising from his face when he first strays into sunlight. The movie is well advanced before we witness him leaping across rooftops and carrying out other feats of superhuman power. The film remains quite grounded in reality as a result, which really helps to sell the concept that, with a small leap of imagination, vampires could exist among us.

There is little of the flashiness of “Underworld” or “Blade” here – the science fiction is toned down as far as possible, but the director achieves this without losing the audience’s interest. The characters invigorate the movie. Without wishing to give too much away, it does end with a darkly amusing slapstick scene straight out of a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon, but fortunately this does not spoil the film and feels right in the context of events leading up to it.

Fans of the new wave of supernatural movies and TV series will find much to get their teeth into here. “Thirst” (certificate ‘18’) is a modern-day morality tale that is stylishly shot, brilliantly acted and constantly surprising. The DVD version features Dolby 2.0 and 5.1 and half-rate DTS 5.1 audio options, a trailer and a UK exclusive interview with Park Chan-wook. Blu-ray exclusives include edited highlights from the NFT Masterclass as well as a full DTS 5.1 audio option.

It is out now from Palisades Tartan, priced £19.99 for the DVD or £24.99 for the Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

Movie Review: “Thirst” (2009)

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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