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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Korean vampire romance closes coffin on ‘Twilight’

    Korean vampire romance  closes coffin on Twilight

    Boy meets girl. Boy turns out to be vampire. Girl gets turned on.

    Fans of Stephenie Meyer’s “”Twilight”” franchise will no doubt be familiar with this plot arc, but in “”Thirst,”” the newest tale of supernatural love from unabashed South Korean director Chan-wook Park, romance is only half the story. The unexplored realm of vampire morality takes center stage in this gory, philosophical tragedy of unrequited love. “”Thirst”” is as touching and thought-provoking as it is downright disturbing.

    “”Thirst”” is the story of Sang-hyun (played by Song Kang-ho of “”The Host””), a devout priest who takes a sabbatical from the hospital at which he volunteers to submit his body to a secret vaccine research lab trying to snuff a deadly disease. Things get bad, as they often do in secret research labs, and as Sang-hyun lays dying, his caretakers inadvertently transfuse vampire blood into his ailing body.

    You’d think that constitutes medical malpractice, but Sang-hyun, Christ-like as he is, turns the other cheek. When he reenters the world, he must find a way to quench his newfound blood-lust without compromising his outstanding religious morals. He realizes that sanguine sustenance is not the only thirst gripping him anymore: for the first time in his life, Sang-hyun can no longer ignore his thirst for the pleasures of the flesh.

    After a chance reconnection with his coquettish, childhood friend Tae-ju, Sang-hyun is forced to reexamine everything he believes in, and whether he can go on existing as a priest and a thirsty, blood-sucking beast simultaneously.

    If the plot sounds a little odd and off-putting, don’t worry — it is. But Park is an expert at turning the odd and off-putting into irresistible cinematic beauty. His “”Vengeance”” trilogy is probably the most relevant example. Comprised of “”Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,”” “”Oldboy,”” and “”Sympathy for Lady Vengeance,”” the films each take a different perspective on humans murdering other humans for the sake of honor, justice, or just plain revenge, all told through densely symbolic imagery, lush cinematography and an almost poetic narrative style. “”Thirst”” shows a significant maturation from all of these films, with every single shot — whether it’s an extreme close-up of a pair of dirty shoes or a panoramic long-shot of a towering cliff-side over a roaring ocean — being worthy of appreciation.

    There is, in fact, very little in the film that isn’t worthy of thoughtful analysis. Recurring water motifs and outrageously wet sound-effects that double for both love-making and blood-sucking, compound Sang-hyun’s thirst for blood and carnal pleasure. Black and white imagery plays endlessly at the questions of subjective good and evil that underline the narrative and even the title is overloaded with latent meaning that cannot be fully appreciated until the film is watched or re-watched.

    The only place “”Thirst”” suffers is in the duration of both certain scenes and the film at large, a problem that Park has in the majority of his work. The preliminary lovemaking between Sang-hyun and Tae-ju is dragged out to an almost awkward length, and the film could easily end thirty minutes before the apocalyptic finale, during which Park offers a perfectly acceptable conclusion that just didn’t satisfy his directorial ego for whatever reason.

    Ultimately, though, “”Thirst”” is an endlessly meaningful commentary on love, mortality and morality that begs with equal measure to be analyzed and appreciated. The dialogue is sardonic and hilarious, the score is entrancing, and the romance is nothing short of touching — a mid-act scene in which Sang-hyun leaps across darkened rooftops with Tae-ju beaming in his arms puts the grade-school puppy love of “”Twilight”” to a blood-soaked shame. Though a little excessive, and understandably hard to get into if foreign films and paranormal gore aren’t your cup of tea, “”Thirst”” will leave you thirsty for a second viewing.

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