Korean Park Chan-Wook’s Thirst is a variation on the horror-standard vampire origin story, imbued with the director's signature visual bravado, narrative contortion and deadpan comic touch.

Sang-hyun (Korea’s best known actor, Song Kang-Ho) plays a Catholic priest who follows a vocation to help people and travels to Africa to take part in a medical experiment investigating a strange blood disorder. It doesn't go well. After his life is saved by a blood transfusion, the priest gradually realises he’s been turned into a vampire. A good, God-fearing man, he finds himself unable to resist his new desires, particularly when he meets the beautiful Tae-Ju (Kim Ok-Bin), a married woman with an idiot husband and an interfering mother in law.

With all of his superhuman senses now awakened to the possibilities of life (while technically, undead), the priest falls in love with the girl and they conspire to find a way to be together forever. He is determined to fight his new-found desires and tries to cause as little harm as possible to the humans he feeds on, but she loves her new unnatural nature and enthusiastically pierces the neck of anyone who comes within her grasp.

Thirst might not be the greatest vampire movie ever made (it is certainly not the most coherent) but there is something utterly unique and unsettling about the way it is presented, performed and considered. A note in the press material reveals that Thirst is loosely based on Emile Zola’s ‘Thérèse Raquin’. The reference would have passed me by, but the book is about a murderous marital affair and an interfering mother-in-law. More so than the narrative skeleton, Park seems to have been inspired by a note Zola made in the preface to the novel, where the writer explains his goal was to “study temperaments, not characters”. There is more here than mere blood-soaked fun and games. The clue to Park’s film is in the title. Thirst is about sensation, need and appetite.

Bold, brave and frequently beautiful, it isn’t quite in the same class as the director’s masterpiece Oldboy but it is still a million times more interesting and involving than the trendily fanged flirting of Twilight. There are, perhaps, deeper seams in the story than Park can mine in the finished film. Park’s priest never comes to deal with the philosophical question of being, or loving, one of the undead. More prosaically, the film feels too long, with Park spinning the central section into a repetitive dance around a single idea, allowing the attention to wander just at the time it is most required.

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