If Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and Old Boy teach us anything, it’s that South Korean director Park Chan-wook loves to infuse his films with brutal and disturbing imagery, leaving a rash of cinematic retributions in their wake. Call it auteurism written in blood. His latest film Thirst, a vampire epic crawling with moments of shocking violence, doesn’t deviate in either department. Except Park frames his latest gruesome set-pieces within a context of dark comedy, horror, and religious guilt, making Thirst a devious character piece/love story hidden beneath genre revisionism.
Unlike his previous “Revenge Trilogy”, which all deal in narrative subversion and steep trickery from the get-go, Park treats the first act of Thirst as an afterthought, a straightforward stepping stone of exposition that evaporates once Priest Sang-hyeon (Song kang-ho) becomes a conflicted blood-sucker. The film really takes off once he meets Tae-joo (Kim Ok-vin), a desperate young woman caught in a loveless marriage and burning with repressed anger. Their slow and strange relationship builds toward a devastating moment of manipulation, pushing the film further into aesthetic oblivion while unleashing stark themes of desire, guilt, and revenge. It’s as if Double Indemnity was re-imagined as a Horror film, and the result borders on insane.
After the ridiculous and inane Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, Thirst marks a triumphant return for Park. It’s a sometimes invigorating and always interesting gothic tale, mixing tones and expectations into one unnerving cocktail. Park lets his stunning images speak loudly, even when they present a gratuitous fascinating with wounds, cuts, and veins. Despite being overly long at 130 minutes, Thirst is surprisingly content to focus closely on these two kindred souls destined for momentary happiness, then an eternity of suffering. Their bloody and hypnotic courtship leads down a path of addiction, one brimming with frightening subtext and ultimately, some much needed resonance.