Lust, with caution.
Park Chan-wook‘s THIRST (Bakjwi) (2009) was inspired by the book Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola about a priest who was turned into a vampire through a failed medical experiment. As a fan of the old-fashioned way of how vampires are fictionally created–the allure of an incredibly sexy vampire making eye contact with their next victim; wooing, conversing, carefully isolating their prey away from prying eyes, leading in with an intimate caress and passionate kiss, fighting off the urge to feed, then–without a warning–they bite; draining away the victim’s life and blood, stopping only just before the heart quit beating. Afterward, they leave–departing again into the cold night, as their victim’s lifeless body remains, allowing the fledgling vampire are be revealed later on.
Thirst (2009), on the other hand, is a truly unique vampire tale. In that, the creature of the night happens to be a priest, Sang-hyeon (Kang-ho Song), who transformed into a vampire from a medical experiment he participated in to help find a cure for the deadly Emmanuel Virus–or EV it is called throughout the film. Although Sang-hyeon was infected, he made an amazing recovery after receiving a blood transfusion. He was the only person to survive out of the 500 volunteers. By him being a priest, the news spread that he survived the devastating disease and people began to believe him to be a “walking miracle” and endowed him with the gift to heal the sick. His newly acquired abilities caused people to start seeking Sang-hyeon out, even the mother of a childhood friend. Lady Ra (Hae-sook Kim) is the overly nursing and domineering mother of the consistently ill Kang-woo (Ha-kyun Shin), who is married to Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim). After exchanging pleasantries, Sang-hyeon is invited to their home to play a weekly game of mahjong.
Eventually, Sang-hyeon falls ill and begins an insatiable ‘thirst’ for blood. He starts to siphon blood secretly via an IV tube from one of the coma patients at the hospital where he volunteers. He quickly begins developing vampire powers: incredible strength, the ability to climb walls, and the ability of flight–sans fangs. He also begins to conceive another insatiable urge: sexual desire. With his new-found attraction to Kang-woo’s wife Tae-ju, they both start torrid sexual encounters spawned from him not being able to resist his desires, which he later blames on his vampirism–as a priest, he avoided such urges. Of course, Tae-ju finds out the truth about Sang-hyeon, and she tries to run in fear. Eventually, their relationship leads to the murder of her husband–and Tae-ju eventually becomes a vicious, bloodthirsty creature of the night. Sang-hyeon and Tae-ju’s lust for blood differs: he will drink blood from those who give it freely, and she, a powerful huntress.
While familiar with Chan-wook‘s knack for high suspense and menacing themes, this one falls short. The inconsistent momentum of the events surrounding vivid sexual encounters, or the more bloody and violent scenes in the film–the relationships between characters weren’t cohesive. Maybe because of the annoying moral or godly theme surrounding Sang-hyeon’s vampire character’s constant battle with his religious faith, along with the moping around just because he has to drink blood. His guilt, or hypocrisy, was overwhelming. Even when he gives in to his desires and Tae-ju’s sexual advances, he is remorseful immediately after that. The film also suffered in choreographic–reduced wire work–and it was completely obvious that the “leaps” both vampires took were facilitated by wires, albeit the more gruesome and violent killing scenes, were executed brilliantly.
Overall, the film succeeds only at being an entertaining fantasy that never feels finished.
Art and supplementary materials courtesy ©2009 of Focus Features. All rights are reserved.