The 2009 Korean drama Thirst features a new take on the vampire, a monstrous performance by one of the film’s lead actors, yet a couple of flaws in the film prevented me from fully investing in the storyline. Directed by Park Chan-wook, who directed the revenge film Oldboy which is quite possibly my favorite foreign film of all time, misfires in latest effort by a common mistake of too much story and too many characters.
The film features Priest Sang-hyeon, or Sang as I’ll call him in this review. Sang is a priest working for a hospital. The hospital has encountered a deadly virus to which there is no cure. Sang selfishly volunteers to be a lab rat for doctors intent on finding a cure. Once Sang is infected, he dies, for a while. Instead of remaining dead, he comes back to life as a creature much like a vampire, who requires blood in order to survive. This alone would have been a fascinating film focusing on the struggles of a God-loving man who is now undead, but the story doesn’t end here.
Sang goes back to the city where he encounters an old friend Kang-wu. Kang and Sang play games together and Sang notices how Kang and his mother treat Kang’s wife, the beautiful but meek Tae-ju. Sang and Tae begin an affair which is another storyline that compiled with the first one, would make for a fantastic film…but we’re not done yet.
During this love affair, Sang and Tae decide they have to kill Kang in order to be together. Sang reveals his true self to Tae and the two of them kill Kang by drowning him. They both begin to have odd and upsetting dreams about the murder they have committed. The death of Kang has sent the mother into shock and Tae now must take care of this comatose mother. Then we reach the point where I finally had enough. We have all this fabulous detail, character, and plot in the film and we’re given a final piece of plot that I wished happened earlier in the film or we had some of the other storylines taken out. Sang in a fit of rage, kills Tae and turns her into a vampire. This is when the real monster of the film is unleashed. Tae its revealed is really a rotten young woman. She’s orchestrated the majority of the bad things that happen in the film and she revels in the role. Tae begins to kill without thought and truly becomes a monster. Finally we get a confrontation between Sang and Tae and the movie ends.
For me, there was a truly great film in there somewhere. What happens is I felt like we were given so much back history and build up to the two vampires storyline that I feel conflicted as to what I wanted more/less of. On one hand, I could stand for the film being about two lovers who are vampires that are feuding. On the other hand, I wished the film was about this one vampire who struggles with God, his passion, his vampirism, and this romantic relationship. Putting these two storylines together just felt like too much story. All of that story was well done and it was well acted, I just felt like there was too much of it. There were some odd Korean touches that I found troubling such as a good deal of armpit licking and a very odd scene of the two of them making love and a dead body being re-animated and in the middle of them. It’s a film that I’m glad I saw but at the same time it’s frustrating because of what the film could have been.