The latest opus from South Korea’s Park Chan-wook (Oldboy), Thirst is a vampire movie of the least utilized order. Sure, you’ll be exposed to copious amounts of blood, forbidden sexual encounters and murderous appetites, but at the heart of it, you’ll find the melodrama of two people caught up in selfless but unfulfilling lives.
Catholic Father Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho), a proponent of self-flagellation, voluntarily subjects himself to a medical study aimed at finding the cure for a mysterious disease that has been spreading. Little is known of the life-threatening virus, but Sang-hyun is self-sacrificing and prays for God to use him in any and all ways to help the cause. The treatment fails, and in order to save Sang-hyun, a blood transfusion is administered. After being revived, Sang-hyun slowly but surely finds out that he has regained life with extraordinary powers and cravings, which eventually lead him away from religion altogether. Of course, there is a female interest; Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin), the wife of Sang-hyun’s childhood friend, Kang-woo (Shin Ha-kyun), quickly becomes caught up in the priest’s madness. But Sang-hyun’s morality remains intact, and a dichotomy between vampirism and humanism pervades the overlapping relationships.
It’s pretty standard vampire stuff—sex, otherworldly strength, attraction to blood—and Sang-hyun gives in to these desires one by one. Yet, Thirst never succumbs to the platitudinous. As the story unfolds, Park’s charming and jarring visuals complement the otherworldly occurrences. The barrenness of an apartment cloaked in sterile white is harsh enough, but when Tae-ju suddenly retches up blood, the effect is doubly unsettling. Park fosters the melodrama without catering to any one mode of sensationalism, exploring the humorous side, the dark and graphic side, the emotional side and all of the gray areas in between.
Thirst was awarded the Prix du Jury (Jury Prize) along with Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.