Sang-hyun (Kang-ho Song) is a beloved and admired priest in a small town, who devotedly serves at a local hospital. He goes to Africa to volunteer as a test subject in an experiment to find a vaccine to the new deadly infectious disease caused by Emmanuel Virus (E.V.). During the experiment, he is infected by the E.V. and dies. But transfusion of some unidentified blood miraculously brings him back to life, and unbeknownst to him, it has also turned him into a vampire. After his return home, news of Sang-hyun's recovery from E.V. spreads and people start believing he has the gift of healing and flock to receive his prayers. Among those who come to him is his childhood friend Kang-woo (Ha-kyun Shin) and his wife Tae-ju (Ok-vin Kim), with whom he begins a secret love affair, even as Sang-hyun realizes he has become a vampire. He asks Tae-ju to run away with him but she turns him down. Instead, she tries to involve Sang-hyun in a plot to kill Kang-woo...
Review by Geoff Gardner:
Fresh from winning the Jury Prize at Cannes, it might have been expected that Park Chan-wook's Thirst (Bakjwi) would be launched with a little more ceremony than an advertisement free opening at Sydney's outlet for new films from Asia, Readings in Sydney's Haymarket.
Park's previous films included another Cannes prize-winner Old Boy (2003), a film which has become a cult item and which is apparently on the list for a Spielberg makeover sometime soon. He has got some form to speak of and a reputation for a nice line in gratuitously grisly violence that inevitably gets rewarded with a high level censorship rating. (His two Lady Vengeance movies are staples on SBS and subscription channel World Movies.)
Thirst sets up its action slowly as a Catholic priest, the ubiquitous and hugely popular Korean star Song Kang-ho, has an attack of guilt at his inability to save lives and souls and heads off to Africa to volunteer for an experimental medical program likely to lead to certain and painful death. He survives but discovers his continuing cure requires a fresh supply of human blood for sustenance. It's not a problem until he's reluctantly inveigled into the family of a man dying of leukemia and promptly surrenders to forbidden lust towards the man's downtrodden wife, Tae Ju, played by the delectable Kim Ok-vin. That causes all hell to break loose and some steamy sex to erupt.
From there it runs to the inevitable end when Catholic guilt gets the better of the priest, by now a full fledged vampire able to fly about all over town. Guilt at all this pleasure forces the priest to choose the sunlight. However the process of it all takes rather too long for the film's own good. At 130 minutes plus there is far too much time taken in running through all the violent agonising between the couple and their victims. None of the seemingly endless opportunities for gory bloodsucking encounters are foregone.
It's not all unrelieved gloom. One nice running joke is that Tae Ju is a non-believer and she's having a good time on the blood lust trail. She isn't planning on going anywhere, anytime and is not looking forward to the afterlife. Her efforts to hide from the sun in the last reel are very funny indeed. But the film ought to be funnier than it is, a trait which is one of Park's perennial problems as a film-maker. He tends to make genre movies with a po-faced seriousness that doesn't always serve the subject, or his audience, all that well.
Thirst is a smart and exotic piece of film-making from one of Asia's leading commercial talents and a quality example of an Asian director exploring a classic genre.
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CAST: Song Kang-Ho, Shin Ha-Kyun, Kim Hae-Sook, Kim Ok-Vin, Eriq Ebouney, Mercedes Cabral
PRODUCER: Park Chan-Wook
DIRECTOR: Park Chan-Wook
SCRIPT: Park Chan-Wook, Chung Seo-Kyung
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Chung Chung-Hoon
EDITOR: Kim Sang-Bum, Kim Jae-Bum
MUSIC: Cho Young-Uk
RUNNING TIME: 133 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney: June 25, 2009