Sang-hyeon (Kang-ho Song) is a priest in a hospital who finds the task of bringing comfort to the patients and staff there something of a burden, especially when the reaction he gets is not one of universal appreciation. He may tend to the bedside of one grateful patient who slips into a coma, but a few hours later he's taking confession with one of the nurses and she throws his advice back in his face. It is this which prompts the priest to seek a more fulfilling vocation - he's still devoted to God, but he has the feeling that martyrdom is the way for him to go, therefore he heads off to a mission in Africa to act as a test subject against a deadly virus which is killing off the visitors to that part of the continent...
A host of vampires arrived on the screens both large and small in the early years of the twenty-first century, rivalling even zombies for renewed popularity; you could enjoy a whole spectrum of fictional blood drinkers from swooning romantic ones to outright brutal ones, and they were appearing in every country that had a healthy film or television industry, or so you would be forgiven for thinking. South Korea's entry into the genre hailed from the fertile mind of Chan-wook Park, and while it seemed as though many of these vampire efforts were having difficulity in finding something new to do with their creatures of the night, he managed to uncover a fresh angle by adapting an Emile Zola novel - one without vampires.
Traditionally with this type of thing, religion played the part of standing up to the perception of evil that the vampires depicted, yet here it was the holy man who was afflicted, and it sends him round the bend. Sang-hyeon does get infected with the virus which mainly affects missionaries and out of five hundred deaths, he is the only survivor, if you can call what happens to him survival. Yes, after a transfusion he turns into a vampire, and finds the only way he can stop the symptoms of the disease returning is to drink blood. Meanwhile, he is regarded as a modern day saint for beating the affliction, and is called on to pray for the terminally ill, including one chap who wins out over his cancer thanks, his family believes, to the priest's supernatural powers.
Those supernatural powers are not God-given, mind you, and Sang-hyeon spends so long worrying about going to Hell that he is probably convinced he is now Satan's messenger, even if he is careful not to actually kill anyone he has sucked the life fluid from. This sends him into further unpriestly activity, as when he leads the misfit wife, Tae-ju (Ok-vin Kim), of the cancer patient into adultery when they start a passionate affair, and he lets her in on his secret. In a film whose strength is that it never settles for one plotline for too long, it shouldn't be surprising that Thirst turns halfway through into a sort of vampire The Postman Always Rings Twice, but the way the action flits around keeps things interesting as the priest and the wife plot the death of her abusive husband.
Except, oh dear, he wasn't abusive at all, simply a bit of a lummox, and those bruises on Tae-ju's legs are self-inflicted, part of the sadomasochistic flavour of the movie. The director is too skilled to allow this to turn into a make it up as he goes along item of growing randomness, and the martyrdom that obsessed Sang-hyeon at the beginning starts to make itself plain as he becomes his very own Van Helsing as well as his very own Dracula. He is very clear that suicide is a mortal sin, even worse than murder in his eyes and the supposed view of God, but fails to see the irony of his wish for self-sacrifice until the very end. That's not to say this is a sustained mope around Catholic guilt for over two hours, as the tone veers wildly from outright tragedy to some genuinely hilarious sequences, and this variety keeps thing engaging for what nevertheless feels like a long film. It's refreshing that there are still new things to do with enduring horror characters. Music by Young-ook Cho.
Controversial Korean director with a strong visual sense. Made his debut in 2000 with the powerful political thriller JSA, which dealt with the divide between North and South Korea. Follow-up Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance was a gruelling tale of revenge, and Park contributed to the human rights anthology If You Were Me. Oldboy was another acclaimed revenge movie, while Cut was Park's entry into the Asian horror anthology Three... Extremes. In 2005, Park completed his 'revenge trilogy' with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. He received mixed reviews for I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK, with his modern day vampire story Thirst seen as a major return to form. His first English-language work was the reserved horror drama Stoker which he followed with arthouse hit The Handmaiden.