Bakjwi [Thirst] (2009)

It’s official, I am bored of vampires. They’re everywhere! On TV, in films, in books, in magazines, on pencil cases, everywhere.
With True Blood, Daybreakers, Lesbian Vampire Killers, The Vampire Diaries, The Vampires Assistant, Vampire Weekend and the god awful Twilight series, vampires are everywhere you look – except in the mirror of course.

The worst thing is that these days vampires are all the same, the same pale skin, the same trendy hair, the same sun hating Goth outfitted dull cliché’s packed full of teenage angst and pent up sexuality.

Well I was bored of vampires that is, until I watched Thirst.

Directed and co-written by Chan-wook Park the genius behind Old Boy and Lady Vengeance, Thirst is a modern day morality tale and a moving examination of the human condition which just happens to be a vampire movie.

Priest Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) selflessly volunteers for an experimental project to find a cure for a deadly virus. Surviving the treatment and the disease where all before him have died, many people in the outside world believe he has become a saint when in reality he has actually become a vampire.

Struggling with his thirst for blood his faith and principles are constantly challenged, as he tries to come to turns with his new life. Things become even more complicated when he meets the wife of a childhood friend, Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), who awakens a more carnal desire within him. As she looks to him to escape her stifling marriage, Sang-hyun falls deeper into her web leading him further away from his humanity and his chances of salvation.

As with all Park’s films Thirst is ultimately about modern society, the people that make it up and the dark desires that drive them lying just under the surface ready to rip apart their reality. What starts off seemingly as a love triangle drama with added vampirism moves slowly and steadily to all out horror amazingly never loosing its sense of realism along the way.

From subtle jokes such as the fact that Sang-hyun sleeps in a wardrobe on the floor which resembles a coffin to the age old ties with religion Thirst, or Bakjwi as it’s really called which translates as Bat in Korean, cleverly takes the ideas and associations of vampirism and shapes them into something new.

Most interestingly the enhanced sense of sexuality that vampires have been associated with since Bram Stoker’s original novel is brilliantly explored in the sensual affair between the two main characters. Mixing love and death, pleasure and pain this sexual relationship drives the pair and the film’s main narrative towards violence and destruction but also ultimately to the characters touching climax.

The performances are pitch perfect, especially Song Kang-ho who utilises the same innocence he perfected in his role in the marvellous monster movie Gwoemul (The Host), crafting a character who is instantly likable but fatally flawed and whose redemption you crave almost as much as he does.

Stylish and imaginative, funny and tragic all in equal measures, this Korean box office hit and winner of the Prix du Jury at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival deserves a much wider audience to witness its brilliance.

If only more modern vampire movies were this good.

Movie Rating: ★★★★★ 

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Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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