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Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) is a priest who selflessly volunteers for a research project searching for a vaccine against a deadly virus known as EV. When Sang-hyun is himself infected by the EV virus the doctors attempt to save his life by way of a blood transfusion, but unbeknownst to them the blood he receives is tainted. Although he survives the infection, Sang-hyun becomes a vampire and must regularly consume human blood in order to survive and keep the virus in check.

 Thirst
Sang-hyun continues his ministerial duties while struggling with his newfound ’thirst’, and before long he encounters terminally ill childhood friend, Kang-woo (Shin Ha-kyun). When Kang-woo miraculously recovers from his illness Sang-hyun is welcomed into the family home, where he meets Kang-woo’s downtrodden wife Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin). Before long Sang-hyun must contend with temptation of a different kind, as the mutual attraction between them becomes harder and harder to resist.

Unfortunately I missed Thirst during its theatrical run, largely due to the fact that my local cinema only seems to show interesting films in one time slot for around three days before binning them off to be replaced by the latest generic rom-com, gross-out comedy, or Bollywood feature. Thankfully, as with I’m a Cyborg, Blu-ray is here to save the day by allowing me to experience the film in quality that probably exceeds my local flea-pit. A little bit of research reveals that Thirst is based on Emile Zola's novel ‘Therese Raquin’, with the obvious addition of vampires. From what I can tell the film actually sticks pretty close to the original story, with Park adapting his own twisted, surrealistic sequences around the events described in the novel. It works very well, and at no time did I feel like I was watching Park direct someone else's story.

 Thirst
I don’t really want to give too much of the plot away, but suffice to say that Thirst incorporates many of the themes Park explored in his earlier films. The vampirism really works well as a metaphor for the characters’ other struggles, and as per usual there are plenty of laughs and thrills, not to mention the director’s trademark depiction of realistic on-screen violence. The performances from the core cast are also strong. Song Kang-ho is always great, but I was particularly impressed by relative newcomer Kim Ok-vin’s turn as the ‘oppressed’ wife. She even manages to eclipse Song with her portrayal of a formerly helpless creature relishing in the newfound glory of her vampiric powers. There are some fantastic set-pieces to be found—I was particularly fond of the roof-hopping sequence—and although it gets a little baggy around the mid section Thirst really pulls things together in the final act. I wouldn’t say it’s his best film by a long shot, but even a ‘mediocre’ Park Chan-wook film is a damn sight better than the majority of features that you find in cinemas these days.

 Thirst

Video


As mentioned above, I never got the chance to see Thirst at the cinema. Unfortunately this means that I am unable to comment on the theatrical accuracy of the disc's 2.35:1 widscreen transfer (1080/24p AVC). However, I am pleased to report that it’s quite an attractive looking film on Blu-ray, if not up there with the top-tier titles. The film has a largely natural palette for the most part, although there is an intentional push towards colder, blue hues in certain scenes. After comparing the Blu-ray to a number of screen captures from the region one Focus Features DVD I can safely say that, while colour rendition is slightly improved, it's the contrast/brightness that benefits the most from the move to Blu-ray. The other big winner is definition, with the Blu-ray allowing you to pick out intricate details on clothing and set decoration that just look mushy on the DVD. Although a layer of fine grain is present throughout, it's not as obvious as I would expect for a film shot in Super35, and faces can also look waxy at times. This led me to suspect filtering, but seeing as the rest of the image remains fairly detailed even when the faces are waxy, I think it's more likely to be a stylistic thing (you'd expect DNR to obliterate fine detail across the board).

 Thirst
The transfer is also very clean throughout. I can't recall any specific instances of debris and there are no obvious sign of edge enhancement or other digital artefacts, even when examining the screen captures closely. Black levels are generally pretty solid as well, and are another advantage over the standard-definition release. While I doubt that Thirst would be high on many people's 'demo title' lists, it does represent a good example of the benefits afforded by high-definition. Visually, this Blu-ray is a marked improvement over the DVD in every conceivable way, which is all you can really ask for.

Audio


The sole audio track on the Thirst Blu-ray is a Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 affair. The mix is fairly sedate until the twenty three minute mark, at which time we start to hear things the same way as a newly infected Sang-hyun. His super-keen vampire senses allow him to hear the sound of lovemaking in the next room, the faraway radio, distant laughing, and even the tiny mites living on his skin! There is some directionality at certain key moments, and although it's nothing on the level of the average action movie it does serve to make the track more exciting. Dialogue is always clean and audible, except for one or two moments where the effects or score are intentionally allowed to drown it out. Speaking of the score, it dominates the surround channels and puts me in mind of Oldboy and Lady Vengeance, although there's nothing as instantly memorable as the stand-out pieces from either of those scores.

 Thirst
Subtitles appear partially in the frame and partially in the black space below the image (this will no doubt annoy those with constant image height displays). They are generally clear and the translation appears to have been handled fairly well, but there are one or two grammatical errors to be found. Even so, they're unlikely to spoil your enjoyment of the film. Interestingly the subtitles remain on-screen for the few scenes in which the characters speak English, but their accents are so thick this actually turns out to be a blessing. The subtitles can be switched off if you happen to understand Korean.

Extras


Unfortunately the commentary track mentioned in the early press material didn’t materialise, so the disc is actually quite sparse in the old extras department. First up is the film’s theatrical trailer, which does a pretty good job of selling the picture. This is followed by a UK exclusive interview with director Park Chan-wook and edited highlights from the NFT master class, which cover a lot of the same ground. As usual Park provides long and thoughtful answers to the questions posed to him by the interviewer and the general public, so the content is at least interesting. I really would have liked more though.

 Thirst

Overall


When reviewing the majority of Park Chan-wook's other films, I did so after multiple viewings on multiple formats. However, as with I'm a Cyborg before it, I went into Thirst fresh and found it to be possibly his 'quirkiest' film yet. As with most of his features it's going to take repeated viewings to get the most from Thirst, and although it feels slightly long at around two-and-a-quarter hours, I couldn't for the life of me tell you what I'd cut out. In fact, I'm actually rather keen to view the director's cut of the film, which runs around ten minutes longer.

While the Blu-ray is somewhat disappointing on the extras front, I suspect that the current economic climate had something to do with it (extras aren't cheap to produce). I'm not really all that big on bonus material anyway, but I would still have enjoyed a Park commentary track. Of course the primary focus for any distributor should be the audio-visual quality of their releases, and I'm happy to report that Palisades Tartan has done a pretty good job in those areas. The Blu-ray trounces the DVD visually, and it is almost certainly going to be the best way to experience the film for some time to come. Thirst is easy to recommend to Park fans and those in search of a different take on the vampire genre.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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