Thirst (Bakjwi) (2009)

Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ok-vin Kim, Ha-kyun Shin, Hae-sook Kim

Directed by: Park Chan-wook

Rating: 1 2 3

Kang-ho Song as Sang-hyeon and Ok-vin Kim as Tae-joo in Park Chan-wook's Thirst

With True Blood proving a steamy Southern TV hit and the second instalment of teen sensation Twilight due in cinemas any minute now, it would appear that the vampire is enjoying something of a renaissance. Trust Korean director Park Chan-wook, then (he of Oldboy and Lady Vengeance fame) to take the genre and turn it on its head.

Father Sang-hyeon (Kang-ho Song) wants to do good in the world. Dissatisfied with merely dispensing hope and forgiveness in a hospital, he volunteers to take part in a scientific experiment to cure a deadly disease. Sure enough, the cure succeeds – but only, he later discovers, by turning him into a vampire. And in order to keep the pustulous disease at bay, he must keep drinking blood.

At first, returning to his job at the hospital, this doesn't prove too much of a problem: the stuff is pretty much on tap there. But it isn't just a thirst for blood he's acquired (along with superstrength and the ability to leap tall buildings), but an appetite for, um, flesh as well.

Soon he's embarked upon a torrid affair with the downtrodden wife of an old school friend, Kang-woo (Ha-kyun Shin). And this is where his problems really start, because while Tae-joo (Ok-vin Kim) may appear meek, her weary subservience masks a cruel, manipulative desire for freedom and revenge on her weak, lazy husband and his domineering, alcoholic mother, Mrs Ra (Hae-sook Kim).

Because, it transpires, despite the gore and gunk, Thirst isn't really a horror film at all. Instead, it's a kitchen sink study of dysfunctional families, toxic relationships and the dangers of unchecked desires. In fact, if Mike Leigh decides to make a vampire film, it'll probably look a bit like this: think Alison Steadman swilling vodka and playing bridge while Jane Horrocks makes tea and plots her bloody revenge…

Sang-hyeon's Thirst gets the better of him in Park Chan-wook's vampire film

So, interesting, then, full of bold visuals, jet black humour and clever ideas that take the vampire theme in new, unexpected directions, but as a movie, not entirely satisfying. For starters, weighing in at a hefty 133 minutes, it's far too long, and, while it manages to redeem itself by the end, there are several sequences that seem to stretch out endlessly, making you wonder wearily whether the story will ever reach a conclusion. And, as it's hard to feel any sympathy for any of the characters, complex as they are, you can't help wishing they'd just hurry up and die so you can go home.

Still, if you find Twilight too trite and True Blood too stereotypical then you could do worse than check out Thirst. Or better still, rent Let The Right One In instead.

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