Park Chan-wook's twisted vampire love story is a multi-faceted view of religion, lust and consequence
In the wake of his blood-splattered Vengeance Trilogy and romantic comedy I'm a Cyborg, But That's Okay (2006), Director Park opted to blend those elements together in the funny, violent romance that is Thirst.
Korea’s most stylish modern director, Thirst also sees Park reunited with the country’s most celebrated modern actor in Song Kang-ho, a relationship not formed since 2002’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (excluding a minor cameo as a hired assassin in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance in 2005).
Added to this cocktail of promise is the theme of vampires, cinema’s most debonair monster-villains, and a lurch towards horror that was always going to suit the violence-loving Park.
Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) is a Catholic priest who provides guidance to hospital patients. He decides to volunteer in an medical trial seeking the cure for the deadly Emmanuel Virus (EV), but as the experiment fails, Sang-hyun needs a blood transfusion to survive.
His surprise survival and recovery offers him minor celebrity status within the congregation, believing him to have special healing powers. Among these new admirers is childhood friend Kang-woo (Shin Ha-kyun) and Sang-hyun soon finds himself invited to a family games night. There he meets Kang-woo's wife, Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), who he is instantly attracted to despite his religious position.
Sang-hyun soon relapses into his illness, needs protection from sunlight and yearns for human blood to sustain him, the only way he can relieve himself of the EV symptoms.
After Tae-ju and Sang-hyun begin an affair, they start to plot a new life, one as a vampire couple with, as the title suggests, a considerable thirst for the human claret of those around them.
The first notable aspect of the film is how it is characteristically Director Park throughout. All of Park’s uncanny ability to set up clever and amusing shots are on display.
Director Park also has a habit of having the volume turned full when it comes to almost any aspect. The sex is explicit, the violence is blunt, and in particular the blood-lust is on full display. The blood is sucked, gorged, guzzled, all complete with a crystal-clear soundtrack of such.
Song Kang-ho again displays his range, from the pious holy man to the violent vampire. The same can be said for Kim Ok-bin's Tae-ju, who breaks the shackles of her domestic mire and creates a much more forthright future for herself.
Thirst lacks the forward momentum of Director Park’s Vengeance Trilogy. The developments are more even-handed, more considered. In doing so the film attempts to carry several themes and developments, making it an ambitious outing safely over the two-hour mark.
It is, as ever with Director Park, a stylish and clever outing. It is also, as ever with Song Kang-ho, anchored with a brilliant lead performance. Together they produce a surprising and enthralling addition to the vampire canon.