Korean director Chan-wook Park’s latest film entitled Thirst has finally been given a U.S. release date by Focus Features, the studio which owns the U.S. distribution rights. The vampire horror-drama will open on July 31st, 2009, starting off its U.S. screenings in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, before moving onto a wider release.

Thirst recently won the prestigious Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival (tied with Fish Tank), and since its initial late April/early May release at home in Korea, it has been seen by over two million people and has since been sold to 20 countries across Asia, Europe and South America.

Thirst tells the story of a priest who accidentally becomes infected (read: turns into a vampire) when a medical experiment goes horribly wrong. The movie sounds suitably dark for director Chan-wook Park, the man behind Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, which collectively make up what is known as The Vengeance Trilogy.

Variety previously reported that both Universal and Focus Features produced Thirst, which marks the first time a US studio has financially backed a Korean movie before its release. Film Junk’s Sean Dwyer points out Thirst’s situation being akin to the situation of a certain other U.S. released foreign film, the 2008 Swedish indie vampire hit Let The Right One In. Are Universal and Focus Features looking to duplicate Let The Right One In’s success? After all, both are fairly low-budget vampire horror-dramas that will be easy for the studio to recoup their money on.

Although Thirst hasn’t been received 100% positively – with most of the negative reviews citing the long-ish 135 minute runtime and some lack of clarity as a couple of the main issues – I doubt Focus Features are worried about that in gearing up for the movie’s U.S. release next month. Just to let you know about some of the more positive aspects of the movie, check out some of the critics reviews so far:

Empire Magazine – “It was too long, but Thirst is a film that stays in the memory. It’s a film about trust, betrayal and the dangers of acting on impulse, which makes it rather conservative in that it appears to be a keep-it-in-your-pants movie.”

IGN Movies – “Thirst may not be the greatest vampire movie ever made, but Park’s willingness to try something different makes it a decidedly fresh take on the genre.”

Screen International – “Although the focus of its narrative movement is not always clear, in its best moments, Thirst offers something of the poetic force of cinema’s timeless masterpieces.”

Focus Features CEO James Schamus had this to say about Chan-wook Park’s movies:

“Very few films I’ve ever seen, going back to Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo,’ have that kind of feel of love and at the same time has horror and a terrifying philosophical exercise in thinking through the greatest extremes of what human emotions and human ambitions can lead to.”

Just as an added bonus, check out the simply-yet-awesome Korean language poster for Thirst (if you want to check out the banned, NSFW poster you can head here):

For those who haven’t seen any of Chan-wook Park’s movies, particularly Oldboy, I seriously recommend you head over to the foreign cinema section of the DVD store, and pick up a copy. I’m a huge fan of Asian cinema, particularly Korean movies, and in my opinion that sort of thing just doesn’t get any better than Oldboy.

Since Thirst is directed by Chan-wook Park (who became one of my favorite directors after I saw Oldboy a few years back), I automatically look forward to the movie. I haven’t seen a Chan-wook Park movie that I haven’t liked so far – Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, JSA: Joint Security Area, I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Okay: all great – and I’m pretty sure Thirst won’t be any different.

Are there any fellow Chan-wook Park’s fans out there? Are you looking forward to Thirst?

Thirst is scheduled to be released in the US on July 31st, 2009.

Sources: THR, Film Junk, Rotten Tomatoes, Empire, IGN, Screen International, Blood-Disgusting, Hancinema and Variety