When priest Sang-hyun (Song) volunteers for a medical experiment, a transfusion turns him into a vampire. Soon hes drawn to Tae-ju (Kim), the put-upon wife of an old friend. The couple kill her husband, and Tae-ju turns into a bloodthirsty creature...
The whole world seems to be intent on turning out vampire movies, TV shows and novels at the moment. Yet Park Chan-wook, the Korean director who made Oldboy, has still managed a fresh spin on the subgenre in this lengthy, quirky tale.
Thirst opens with a mixture of spiritual questioning and black comedy as Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho), a sincere and boyish Catholic priest, survives a pustular disease through an unholy miracle, but tries to remain true to his clerical — and medical — vocation in his new vampiric state. Rather than hunt for victims, Sang-hyun lies on the floor and sucks blood through the drip-feed tube of a coma patient, excusing himself because the blood donor has made a fuss about his charitable treatment of the starving. The nagging Lady Ra (Kim Hae-sook) seeks the miraculous survivor’s prayers to help her sickly son Kang-woo (Shin Ha-kyun), a semi-friend from Sang-hyun’s childhood, and the vampire priest — who defrocks himself in several ways — is sucked into an unhealthy relationship with the ailing Kang-woo’s downtrodden but sensual wife, Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin). With the characters in place, Thirst turns into a surprisingly close adaptation — admittedly, with vampires — of Emile Zola’s 19th century shocker, Thérèse Raquin.
The film boasts both fantastical scenes as vampires leap between rooftops like grasshoppers and an element of brutal sexiness, since bloodlust isn’t the only new compulsion the formerly chaste protagonist has to deal with. But its tone is mostly nightmare farce. In a typical moment, the newly vampirised Tae-ju forgets she isn’t supposed to have inhuman strength and picks up her mother-in-law, armchair and all, as if she weighed nothing; embarrassed by her guests’ astonishment, she puts the old bat down again while pretending nothing is out of the ordinary. Also horribly funny is the sequence in a boat out on a lake as the husband just about suspects something might be amiss when his wife tells their friend they’ll have to spend the rest of the night being questioned by the police and will want it safely over with by sun-up. This is no simple vampire comedy, though — a climax set on a pre-dawn beach is moving and weirdly funny, staging a possible suicide pact as a Laurel and Hardy-like routine.
A fresh, surprising take on an old, old story (and an overpopulated subgenre) that holds the attention with deadly wit.