Saturday, 13 February 2010

Toda'y Viewing & Review: Thirst


Over the last few years two clear sub-strains of boundary-pushing vampire films have taken hold, breaking from traditional depictions of blood-hungry ghouls. On one hand you have the sensitive, gore-free portrayals witnessed in Twilight and its youngster-friendly clones. On the other you have innovative (largely non-English speaking) approaches, like Let The Right One In, which attempt to break from all but the essential iconic features of the genre. This latter sub-type has its roots in films like George A. Romero’s Martin and Thirst very much fits into this category.

Coming from director Park Chan-Wook, this South Korean take makes vampirism a disease-combatant which ‘cures’ Sang-Hyeon, a priest struck down by infection while undertaking missionary work. Vampirism blights him with the obvious side-effect of bloodlust, which he satiates by sneaking the odd sip from comatose patients at the hospital where he does his rounds. It also offers him new found abilities and awakens a dormant sexuality that clearly doesn’t fit with his chosen profession.

It’s an innovative spin on the genre. For the most part, this doesn’t play like a vampire film at all. Sure, the scenes of blood letting are present but they’re not foregrounded as much as the relationship elements. When they are there’s no translucent, sparkly skin here – this is viscera in all its glory. Vampirism and eroticism have always been historically closely linked and this remedies that ethos, which has disappeared of late. At times this approximates something like Lust, Caution more than it does toothless (and sexless) teen-vamp fare.

The cinematography is glacially conducted and often inventive. The occasional high-angle shot manages the distinct feat of making the vampire seem unnaturally powerful but also down-to-Earth and ‘real’. An early scene displaying vampire hyper-sensitivity stands out as one of the best depictions of a fledgling sense of ability I’ve seen. Similarly, the display of power as courtship technique (seen in loads from the aforementioned Twilight to Superman) is stylishly done with a minimum of over-sensitivity.

Where the film falters is when it takes a comedic turn in the latter half. The scenes of vampire near-domesticity don’t quite fit in with the cold stylistics of the earlier parts. The ghostly reappearance of a victim stands out as lazy, even more so when played for laughs. It isn’t too much of a distraction and the film does recover for a wondrous final act.

This is everything a vampire film should be; dark, sensual, original, bloody and, above all, entertaining. The shiftless moping about being undead is mainly kept under wraps. It’s gruesome at times but also strangely romantic.


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