Director: Park Chan-Wook Release Date: October 23 Review by Tara Judah In lieu of the recent resurrection of our dusty old nocturnal fiend and his/her manifestation into anything from; a supposedly hunky teenage boy (Edward in Twilight) to a handsome, mysterious manly man from the south (Bill in True Blood) it is no surprise to see the emergence of more complex, dramatic vamps from the European Art Cinema scene. As with Eli in Let The Right One In, the vampires in Park Chan-Wook’s critically acclaimed Thirst (2009) are characters with significantly more depth than the base of a mere coffin, and are almost unbearably consumed by suffering in their dramatic tales of true tragedy, tales that supercede the generic conventions of vampirism that was once exclusive to horror. First up, our protagonist is a Catholic Priest and immediately it is apparent that vampire traditions as you know them will not necessarily be observed in this tale of grand proportions; it is love, death, otherness, fantasy and reality rather than vampires that are at stake here. Despite the strength of the visual imagery, the breathtaking cinematography, the heightened, unsettling soundscape with heaving panting and loud slurping present in excess, and the intensified use of colour where stark artificial whites contrast with earlier earthly tones of brown and green, allowing intense blues and reds to stand out and illustrate both the human element (blood) and the unnatural addiction that has taken over (infiltrated veins), it is the screenplay that truly pierces the audience with its exploration of human nature and the fragile state of otherness that has threatened, overpowered and divided Korea. The illness our father, Sang-Hyeon, suffers is something foreign – he travels to Africa to take part in a medical trial and the terminal illness attacks his body with hideous blistering on the outside and by breaking down his immune system on the inside, eventually killing him. That is, until a contaminated blood transfusion containing vampire cells rejuvenates him. However, it is important to note that after the external and internal otherness he has played host to, he is no longer the ‘person’ he was before. The virus itself explicates this point, as it seems to have attacked mostly missionaries, Caucasian and Asian individuals only, no Africans have been infected. The significance of this notion is to highlight the plight of invasion; of both the missionaries who have come to Africa to impose alternate cultural ways, but also to resonate with Korea’s history of invasions from other countries including Mongolia and Japan, and the later division of the country at the hands of US and Soviet forces following the end of WWII. For Sang-Hyeon, now suffering the blight of otherness even within his veins, returning home is not so simple. Learning to live within a system he is now parasitically dependent upon for his survival proves difficult to say the least; he must reconcile within himself the overwhelming strength of his thirst for human blood against the morality he retains as a functioning societal ‘human’. Further complicating and compromising his religious virtues is his increase in libido. Having been re-introduced to his childhood crush, the beautiful Tae-ju, who it appears is being terribly mistreated by her husband and (m)other, Sang-Hyeon finds resisting his sexual urges almost unbearable. Considering his commitment to celibacy and despite his efforts at self-flagellation, he is unable to suppress his desires and turn down the sweet, sexy Tae-ju. Following their act of consummation the film follows a traditional Lacanian psychoanalytic rupture: as humans we inherently lack, to satisfy our lack we employ desire, however, desires should be left unfulfilled as satiating them results in the experience of trauma, as the act of satiation does not live up to the original desire. Following this comes a new lack and a new displaced desire. So too, Sang-Hyeon and Tae-ju, unable to leave their desires unfulfilled, now experience great trauma and the remainder of the film explores this rupture through a break between fantasy and reality. All importantly, each subsequent action that takes place in this surprisingly linear and causal narrative, results in Sang-Hyeon and Tae-ju continually and brutally harming one another. There is much to be said for the film’s questioning of human nature and how humans figuratively feed off one another to survive. Certainly there is an intense questioning of the motivation, resolution and regret, or lack thereof, that humans feel as they act against one another. At the heart of the film is a simple, age-old lesson; one must learn how to walk in another’s shoes. Tae-ju does this literally and figuratively throughout her transition from servile peasant to vampire mistress of the house. Essentially, the vampirism, though providing strong regenerative features is not a ticket to immortality. And despite Tae-ju’s attempts to live otherwise, Sang-Hyeon acts as her reminder that actions do have consequent reactions. A beautifully told traditional tale of human tragedy, Thirst is both an interesting and enjoyable sensory experience.