‘Thirst’ – Vampires for the Rest of Us

'Thirst' (2009)

I know Chan-wook Park’s  Thirst came out six years ago, and I am late to the party of its adoring fans. If you, like me, have had more than enough of steamy vampires sexing up ingenue damsels in Victoria’s Secret lingerie, Thirst, is the antidote.

Thirst takes the road less traveled through dysfunctional-family-Catholic-leper-colony-suicide-cult-mahjong-Fridays territory. There’s no glamor here. None. Zip. Nada.

'Thirst' (2009)
Father Sang-hyeon leaving the disease treatment facility

The settings are bleak, the lighting blue-grim, the costumes depressing. Everything in this world sucks — excuse the pun — to perfection. In fact, the act of sucking blood is the least disturbing thing going on here. Everyone from the priests to the doctors to the victimized young wife and her “generous” mother-in-law is petty, duplicitous and corruptible. In that way it reminded me (happily) of Shôhei Imamura’s The Pornographers (1966).

'Thirst' (2009)
Father Sang-hyeon encounters his old friend Kang-woo in the hospital with his mother and wife.

But bleak as it is, Thirst is not a drag. Like The Pornographers, it manages a kind of giddy nihilistic humor. It gets off to a slow start — so slow that my husband gave up and wandered off — but once it gets going its momentum just keeps building… and building… and building until its like a runaway train barreling down a mountainside, snapping off trees and taking out wildlife with abandon. In other words, it gets more deranged and faster-paced as it goes, and will probably startle you with at least a few of its plot twists. Like this one…

'Thirst' (2009)
The visuals get wilder, along with the action, as the film progresses.

And this one….

'Thirst' (2009)
Mahjong Night takes on a Kubrickesque vibe.

And let’s not forget this twist…

'Thirst' (2009)
A startling turn of events….

I should make clear that there is SEX and it is steamy, but, well, let’s just say you’ll hate yourself in the morning.

At the risk of over-generalizing…

At the risk of over-generalizing, American screenplays are so cause-and-effect driven that they may surprise you once or twice, but they almost never make you feel as if anything could happen. We hate that in the US of A. We like control.

People hate watching movies with me because I can correctly tell you what will happen next about 75% of the time. I am not psychic; the action is telegraphed to you in advance. There can be some satisfaction in the feeling that you are one step ahead of the plot, a kind of mastery — or so they say.

In the hands of an auteur — Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock or even Quentin Tarantino — that predictability can become a kind of delightful game they play with you, lulling you into thinking you know what’s happening before hitting you with a plot twist.

Bleep that.

A film like Thirst, however, telegraphs nothing. Bleep that. “Grow up and keep up,” it says. “This ain’t gonna be pretty.” But it is a wild ride and dryly, darkly hilarious.

Chan-wook Park
Director Chan-wook Park

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