The last film in my Park Chan-wook retrospective is his utterly bonkers vampire film from 2009. Song Kang-ho plays Sang-hyun, a Catholic priest who volunteers to help find a cure for a horrific virus, only to contract it himself. After receiving a life-saving blood transfusion, Sang-hyun develops an unhealthy craving for human blood, sensitivty to sunlight and other vampiric qualities. He also finds himself lusting after the beautiful wife (Kim Ok-bin) of his repellent childhood friend (Shin Ha-kyun). Things get complicated when the priest begins an erotically-charged romance with this victimised, put-upon woman, and when she goes on to discover his other late-night tendancies, events take even stranger, more macabre turns.
While many of Park’s films acknowledge the close proximity between sex and violence, most see his characters replace their carnal desires with bloody carnage. In the case of Thirst, however, the opposite is true, with Sang-hyun channeling his bloodlust into his elicit affair with his friend’s wife. In fact, he refuses to kill, but willingly breaks his vow of chastity, becoming an adulterer in the process.
Thirst remains the best of Park’s post-Vengeance films, as it is the only instance where the director feels to be challenging himself further as a filmmaker. Familiar themes are still present – isolation, entrapment, taboo relationships, and his vivid visual flourishes are as powerful as ever – but he also tackles themes such as religion, faith and the superatural more dirctly than ever before. Thirst‘s climax unfolds without any dialogue whatsoever, underscoring the strength of the film’s performances, particularly from Song and Kim, while firming up Park’s position as, first and foremost, a visual storyteller.