Over the years there have been many types of vampires depicted in the movies, from the classic opera cape-wearing Lugosi to the teenage-looking vamps who play baseball during thunderstorms, but lately, it’s been the ones from the foreign market that have been the more interesting, like the Swedish film Let the Right One In and now with South Korea’s Thirst.
Directed by Chan-wook Park this movie is loosely based on the novel Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola though the original story is completely vampire-free and only some of the relationships are similar. It should be noted that this may be about a bloodsucking creature of the night but most of the horror does not stem from that but from the people around him.
Sang-hyun (Kang-ho Song) is a Catholic priest that works as a volunteer at a local hospital and is finding his faith and mental health tested daily by the stream of depressing people he comes into contact with. In full martyrdom mode, he volunteers for a secret vaccination project to cure a brutal and 100% fatal disease called Emmanuel Virus (EV). He contracts the disease and soon begins to blister horribly and bleed internally as the disease kills him, but when the doctors attempt to save him with a blood transfusion he finds himself miraculously cured. Unbeknownst to anyone it turns out that the blood given to him was from a vampire. Where that blood came from or any information about the original vampire is never addressed and strangely that works in the film’s favour, which is strange as that sort of thing usually drives me nuts.
Sang-hyun returns home to find that word of his miraculous recovery has spread among his congregation and has turned him into something of a sainted figurehead, many thinking that he can heal them of their maladies. It’s when Sang-hyun relapses and begins showing the symptoms of EV again, and it is only reversed when he drinks blood from a coma patient, that what he has become dawns on him. Horrified by his actions he attempts to kill himself by leaping out of a window. This does not work.
He quickly comes to grips with his condition, the sun burning him and the need for blood being hard indicators to ignore, but it’s his other urges that are more concerning than the need for the occasional Bloody Mary. You see vampirism may have made him super strong and possibly immortal but it also awakened sexual needs that as a priest he had set aside but will now no longer be ignored. He runs into a family from his childhood that consists of a domineering mother, her sickly son and Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim) the son’s wife who at first seems very meek and shy, treated almost like a slave by the mother, but as they say, things aren’t always what they seem.
What follows is a dark and twisted love triangle; Sang-hyun and Tae-ju sneak off whenever they can for illicit trysts until eventually, Sang-hyun reveals his vampiric nature to her, at first she is terrified but soon she comes around when realizing this could lead to an escape from her apparent bondage. Sang-hyun is lead to believe that the bruises he discovers on Tae-ju’s legs were caused by her abusive husband and helps plot the man’s death. Unfortunately, the murder of her husband does not bring them closer together, instead, their guilt almost drives them both to the brink of madness as they are tormented by apparitions of the man they drowned.
When Tae-ju lets it slip that Kang-woo never abused her things get really tense and eventually leads to her asking Sang-hyun to kill her so that she can rejoin her husband, but after strangling her near to death he has second thoughts and feeds her his blood. This may have been a mistake.
Sang-hyun did his best to avoid killing for food, with his main supply of blood coming from stolen blood transfusion packs from the hospital, but Tae-ju is cut from a different cloth and she becomes a remorseless killing machine. The resulting domestic disputes between these two leave many dead in their wake.
This is an excellent movie about a good man trying his best not to become a monster but instead creating an even worse one. Both Kang ho-song and Ok-bin Kim are simply marvellous as two damaged individuals falling in love and then destroying everything around them. Park Chan-wook’s also directed Oldboy which was a wonderful mindfuck of a movie and though Thirst may not have that same gotcha type twist it is equally as entertaining. I highly recommend checking it out.
Though not your traditional vampire movie it does have great visuals as our two leads leap and fly across the cityscape making Park Chan-wook twisted love story immensely entertaining.