Bad boy Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook gives himself away in the birthday party orgy of Thirst when Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin), a tantrummy young housewife, gets her wish: The undead priest Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) punctures Tae-ju’s arteries and makes her one of the unholy. It’s a brat’s dream come true.
Tae-ju tries to out-do the priest in blood-sucking conversions, literally bouncing through the streets, or from rooftop to rooftop, seeking her prey. When Sang-hyun chases behind, she cackles the film’s best lines: “Is it a sin for a fox to eat a chicken? Stop being humane, you’re not even human.”
It’s the mischievous thrill of misbehavior—whether the grisly revenge scenarios or this vampire bloodbath—that fuels Park’s warped imagination. Like a child who learns he can spit, Park’s out to impress somebody with his perverse outrage. Who? Role model Quentin Tarantino or nihilist critics?
To kimchee-up its Dracula formula, Thirst uses Sang-hyun’s sense of futility as a Catholic priest. Failing to save people (or himself) from a mysterious virus that only attacks only Caucasians and Asians, he lashes back: “Now I thirst for all sinful pleasures.” It’s a religious goof—not credible consideration of disillusionment like Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction. Park’s into Halloween festivity but he has mastered a weirdly dour mischief. He lacks Q.T.’s grindhouse humor (except for a scene where three-way sex with a victim guilts the priest and his minion). Yet Park’s sensationalism (Sang-hyun prays to a mummified crucifix) and bodily horror (close-ups of bone-breaking, veins beneath skin and oozing pustules) merely out-flamboyants David Cronenberg.
One can’t take Thirst seriously, even with its ironic cha-cha music cues, when Park sets up his usual elaborate sentimental ending—further variation on his typical self-flagellation and mortification of the flesh. His story has so little to do with spiritual or metaphysical ache, however, that it turns into hollow, fashionable transgression. Park’s less fun than Q.T., he’s a shallow DeSade.
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Runtime: 133 min.
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