English Title: Thirst
Original Title: Bakjwi
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean, English, French
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Horror
Director: Park Chan-wook
Music: Jo Yeong-wook
Cinematography: Chung Chung-hoon
A vampire love story loosely based on Émile Zola’s THERESE RAQUIN, Chan-wook Park’s THIRST (its original Korean title literally means: bat) is a blood-soaked psychological thriller about a Catholic priest Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho), after experiencing a death-defying recovery owing to an undisclosed blood transfusion during his volunteer mission to find a vaccine for a deadly virus, he becomes the only survivor among all the infected, which attracts many devotees to worship him as a miracle from God. But the reality is that a craving for human blood has been commenced after the incident, the virus is still plaguing him, his skin is afflicted with blisters, only human blood can prohibit the symptoms and turn him into a nighttime creature endowed with all its well-established trappings like self-recovery, human-exceeding agility and strength.
So he becomes a vampire priest, battles his thirst for blood and sexual lust aroused by his metamorphosis, and also, it is a game-changer for his devout faith. He is reunited with his childhood friend Kang-woo (Shin), who is diagnosed with cancer, and his mother Lady Ra (Kim Hae-suk). But it is Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), Kang-woo’s wife, who is an orphan raised in the household, enkindles Sang-hyun’s repressed desire, deeply affected by Tae-ju’s wretched story of being abused by both Kang-woo and Lady Ra, he ventures into a sexual relationship with her, eventually leads to a premeditated murder, afterwards, both plagued by guilt and haunted by the dead, their rapport internally disrupts when Sang-hyun finds out Tae-ju’s ulterior motive, after a violent commotion, Tae-ju has been brought back to life as a vampire. The rest of the story can be viewed as a doomed romance driven by the incongruous nature between a man and a woman who may or may not love him.
The film harvests a Jury Prize in Cannes 2009, a massive domestic box-office champion too, it highly encapsulates Park Chan-wook’s stylishness of drenching gore with nimble camera-movement and lurid palette, paves the way for his next step into mainstream Hollywood with big star vehicle STOKER (2013). Notably, it also inquires into one’s utmost challenge to his religious belief, Sang-hyun is as much as tormented by the ascetic canons of Catholicism as his sexual impulse and blood-thirst after the infection, until the final abandonment of his saintly embodiment before he meets the crucifixion.
Song Kang-ho, the most bankable film star in South Korea, diverts from his regular kind guy persona, embraces his fatalistic destruction with compassionate commitment, flares up with retro sheen under Chan-wook’s slick versatility either in CGI-embroidered sequences or the claustrophobic settings where blood is running amok. Kim Ok-bin, a newcomer then, triumphantly trumps all the veterans in her stunning depiction of Tae-ju’s conflicted personalities and raw seduction, both actors also bravely engage in stark nude scenes which are still not common to be seen on the mainstream territory. Kim Hae-suk, as Lady Ra, achieves a different kind of thrill using only her eyeballs to dictate the most compelling set piece of suspense, and remains as the most uncertain variable up until the very end, indeed, all three performances are mind-blowing in this heretic genre piece, and Park Chan-wook is destined to continue his streak as an iconoclast condemning the morbid society by spiking bloodshed into violence and sex in a more global scope.