This post is the seventeenth in my 31 Days of Vampires! series for October 2014.
It’s probably best to watch Thirst without knowing a single thing about it before you dive in – except, perhaps, the rating (this one’s definitely not for the kids). Necessarily: some spoilers follow in this review.
Catholic priest Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) is respected and loved by his parishioners: deep down, however, he is sad and feels purposeless. For some reason I didn’t catch, he abruptly elects to take part in a medical test that means certain death. Yet he miraculously heals, thanks to an inadvertant transfusion of vampire blood. When he discovers he’s a vampire, both he had his priest mentor seem to totally know what’s going on (also for some reason I also didn’t catch).
If you think Sang-hyun has it bad, meet Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), a young woman in a family Sang-hyun is tangentially connected to. Raised as a “puppy” and made to marry her sickly adoptive brother and work in her mother-in-law’s hanbok shop, Tae-ju at first seems a damsel in distress. But when Sang-hyun’s bloodlust begins to develop, so does his lust for “all sinful things” (although the film only shows him craving blood and sex – not cigarettes, or naps, or gambling, et cetera). Tae-ju and Sang-hyun begin a visceral, sexual affair while he’s also trying to stay alive on blood in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone. When Tae-ju is drawn into his vampirism the film puts the question: if the vampire curse is one that turns even a decent man like Sang-hyun to depravity, what would it to to someone who’s been treated – literally – like a dog all her life?
Directed by Park Chan-wook and starring the bewitchingly handsome Song Kang-ho, two beloved names in Korean cinema, the film was bound to enjoy critical and commercial success. However, as beautiful and sad it is, it is also: excessive. The runtime is excessive. The score, vacillating between whimsical romantic themes and overwrought soap opera tones, is excessive. The themes are excessive and the corporeal manifestation of these themes (fingernails snapping, sewing scissors diving into flesh, snot flying everywhere) is – excessive. (It is also the first mainstream Korean film to feature full frontal male nudity.) If you’re going to watch the film, make sure you’ve already eaten.
Fans of K-horror or sad, tortured vampire love triangles – this movie is a must.