Bakjwi (Thirst) (2009)
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ok-bin Kim
Directed by: Chan-wook Park
Written by: Seo-Gyeong Jeong and Chan-wook Park, inspired by “Thérèse Raquin” by Émile Zola
Rating: 4 (out of five)
With the teenage vampire craze under way it’s hard to find a good vampire movie any more. (Although I’m not really certain I can blame Stephanie Meyer for it, good vampire movies were hard to come by before.) This is one that makes a valiant, original attempt at reclaiming the genre.
Chan-wook Park is best known for Old Boy, the violent revenge yarn about a man who has been help captive for years for no good reason. His horror movies are unique, just as Old Boy was unique for a revenge story. There is an interesting perspective brought to them, and an interesting exploration of raw human nature. Few other horror films are as deep.
Thirst is about a Roman Catholic priest. He works at a hospital performing last rites to it’s dying tenants. He’s a good, humble, pious man, seeking to do good for his fellow man in any way he can. Blessed with a healthy body and not able to help beyond praying, he volunteers for a radical medical experiment that is attempting to cure a deadly virus. It fails, and the priest dies.
During the resuscitation attempt the dying priest is given a blood transfusion, and it’s blood from a vampire. The priest is resurrected in the morgue, becoming the first human to successfully fight off the deadly disease. A cult following forms around him, people begging him to heal them without realizing what he’s become.
The priest begins to struggle with his new affliction – his new self – and still retain his previous moral code. He leaves the seminary and the hospital to find a new place in the world and begins spending time with a childhood friend of his, Kang-woo, and his young wife, Tae-ju. The priest can’t hold back his carnal needs, amplified after his transformation, for Tae-ju. He struggles with these new actions and his previous vow of chastity; she, on the other hand, yearns to escape her boring marriage and willing accepts the priest, vampirism and all, into her arms. The urges become too much and both are soon entangled in a mess of blood, murder, revenge, and self-loathing.
An interesting idea of the vampire is that they do things out of need, not out of want. The first half of the movie is a fascinating look at how someone as pure as good priest would cope with becoming vampire. The budding love (or lust) between the priest and Tae-ju is equally fascinating. The film makes a point of placing the vampire into a moral conflict rather than a physical one, framing it within the real world.
Unfortunately, the film turns a little too grotesquely comedic in the middle of the second half for it to have been a brilliant picture. Any philosophical exploration was tossed aside for a bloody and graphic interlude. It fits within the construct of the story, but losing that depth of character momentarily is enough to drag the movie down.
It’s taken a while for this movie to grow on me. Had I written this review immediately after viewing it, it would have been much more negative and lower rated. The movie has stuck with me and has planted some lingering thoughts in my about the classic vampire mythos. To anyone I said “Don’t bother” to – I take it back!