Would you like to see a truly great vampire movie, one that is scary, yet sexy and utterly sparkle-free, but still completely original? Try the 2009 Thirst (not to be confused with the 2010 Canadian thriller of the same name) directed by Chan-wook Park and starring Kang-ho Song. (Both these gents are big names in K-horror.)
Much of what makes Thirst so compelling is the fact that it was not originally intended as a vampire story, being loosely based on Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin. A noble young priest selflessly volunteers for vaccine research, but his only reward is the hideous disease he contracts. His faith broken, he turns to the pleasures of the flesh. Moralistic as this premise may sound, there is no preaching, only a relentless unfolding of events. Yet the underlying theme brings strength and clarity to what might otherwise have been a hackneyed B-picture. The characters are vivid and realistic, bringing credibility, not to mention considerable black humor, to their progressively gruesome situation. Dracula must stand aside. This is my candidate for all-time-best vampire movie.
Are you more in the mood for monsters? Get The Host (2006) directed by Joon-Ho Bong, and again starring Kang-Ho Song. (You may also have seen him in The Good, the Bad and the Weird.) Superficially, this is a simple, straightforward monster movie. Toxic chemicals are dumped in the Han River, and a few years later a hideous monster crawls out and starts eating people. A small band of seeming losers can’t make the authorities listen to them, and so work together to rescue one of the victims and slay the dragon themselves. No surprises there, right?
Wrong. This is the best creature feature since Them. The characters are utterly engaging and believable, from the old man brow-beating his kids, to the hopeless slacker running the family snack bar, to the unemployed revolutionary, to the sister who always hesitates at the last moment. Their pride and joy is the slacker’s darling little daughter, last seen clutched in the monster’s tentacles. Now, there’s a plucky heroine! Picture a thirteen year old Lois Lane. You will be on the edge of your seat, rooting for her.
But The Host doesn’t just have great characters. It also has a great monster, slippery and bizarre, excruciatingly flexible and convincingly biological. It secretes less than the creature in Alien, but it wiggles around more. The only thing I can find to fault in the entire film is “Agent Yellow” a chemical that the army attempts to deploy against the monster near the end. An unimportant quibble. Don’t let it stop you from watching this movie.
Excellent as these two pictures are, many would say they are not a fair representation of K-horror, which comes into its own with ghost stories. But there are way too many of those to do them justice here. We’ll talk about them another day.
Michaele Jordan is the author of the period occult thriller Mirror Maze and her stories have appeared in Redstone Science Fiction, Buzzy Mag, The Crimson Pact, Volume 4 and Fantasy and Science Fiction. You can visit her website at www.michaelejordan.com