Vampire films nowadays are dime a dozen. Over the decades of films' existence, there have been a myriad of interpretations for audience consumption ranging from genre-bending mash-ups of everything from comedy to animation. The key vampire movies that usually keep the genre fresh are the ones that return to the core issues of just what a vampire is, a dead immortal suffering to stay alive. I had first saw "Bakjwi" (translated as "bat") aka "Thirst" within just a few months of watching Sweden's "Let the Right One In", and realized I had just gotten hit with a double whammy of fresh new visions of our favorite kind of nocturnal blood-suckers.
This South Korean film, from director Chan-Wook Park, (of Old Boy fame) takes a strikingly evocative peek into what it is to become a vampire. However, it also looks at the insatiable desire of lust, love, adultery, and the destruction it ultimately brings to one Catholic priest cursed with the infamous disease. Loosely based on an 1867 French novel titled "Thérèse Raquin", Bakjwi (Thirst) explores the tale of Sang-hyun (played by the hardest working Korean actor in the world, Song Kang-ho), a young Catholic priest, who becomes disenchanted with his duties as a faithful servant to God. His visit with a hospitalized obese patient, Hyo-sung, pushes him into disbelief when the man goes comatose. He asks a superior blind wheelchair-bound priest, who has looked over him since he was an orphaned child, to send him to the Emmanuel Labs in Africa. Sang-hyun volunteers himself as a subject to an experimental virus called the Emmanuel Virus, which has the patients to a process of slow degenerative state of boils and blisters, which infect the internal organs ultimately killing them. Sang-hyun, however miraculously survives.
Sang-hyun becomes something of a saint, and many come from afar just to have his prayers over them. when an old woman, Lady Ra, comes to him, begging him to pray for her cancer-stricken son Kang-woo, he respectfully pays the man a visit in the hospital. He soon discovers that he and Kang-woo (played by Park director pet Shin Ha-kyun) are old childhood friends, as the mother reminds him he used to come over for noodles. He reunites with the family over a game of mahjong and a young woman named Tae-ju, who appears a sheltered repressed young housewife (once raised as a sister) to Kang-woo. Sang-hyun visits their home and catches up on their lives, finding out about Kang-woo and Tae-ju, who is stuck with the over-bearing mother and the "Baby Huey" husband and mistreated by the whole family. Sang-hyun frequently visits and when he suddenly has an adverse reaction to sunlight and the symptoms of the EV virus returns to him, he quickly realizes he has become a vampire. Sang-hyu develops a deep attraction for her, and they do carry on a torrid adulterous affair. Eventually Sang-hyun reveals what he truly is to her as they sneak into the hospital room of the comatose Hyo-sung, the man he has been siphoning blood from. At first, Tae-ju is of course frightened, but she soon requests from Sang-hyun for him to turn her into a vampire as well. His backsliding, of course, begins to worsen.
Soon, Tae-ju requests to be turned into a vampire as well. Not long after, Chang-Hyun's own surrogate father, the blind priest also requests to be turned, leaving him with no choice but to step down from the priesthood. This begins his downward slide into sin, as his affair leads to murdering Kang-woo. Both he and Tae-ju's tragic love story goes from a lustful affair to absolute mayhem as they go on a murdering spree which will ultimately cost them their lives.
Chan-Wook Park's "Thirst" isn't a fantastic vampire film, but it most certainly brings yet another fresh take on the most famous horror sub genre ever. Chan-Wook Park direction is very smart and meticulous, overlapping dialogue with other scenes, and subtle moments of suspense and black comedy like Sang-hyu getting sick from the smell of garlic and saying he had a whiff of blood, sending Tae-ju running to the bathroom to look for a tampon.Kudos for the young Kim Ok-bin, whose slippery performance as Tae-ju keeps the audience engaged with her demure beauty and her eventual manic femme fatale actions. The key factors into this film besides the ethnic South Korean flavor, is the infusion of faith and a man of faith's battle with a very sinful disease. It is almost an essay on that alone, but if anyone is interested in seeking a film with a better take on that aspect of the vampire, watch the anit-blaxploition film "Ganja & Hess". The vampire has always been an inverse of Jesus Christ, with many references to his legendary existence.
- Just like Christ, the vampire was once alive and he rises from the dead.
- Just like Christ, the vampire becomes makes followers.
- Just like Christ, the vampire's "spirit", by bite, is passed on to others, often exponentially.
- Just like Christ, many Christian's profess to be "saved", by his blood.
Many believe that the vampire lore was partly created as an anti-Christian allegory anyway. It can be no mistake that the crucifix is a key weapon against the creature of the night, but that rule apparently does not apply to the universe in this film. "Thirst" is definitely a great addition to the vampire sub genre. Unlike Christ, however, they are not as immortal. Eventually, like all men they are dust in the wind.