Thirst tackles vampirism as a metaphor for primal transgression – forbidden sexual desires and our capacity for violence – a conventional narrative that’s elevated by Park Chan-wook’s stylistic excess (that excess isn’t always appreciated – the runtime didn’t need to stretch past two hours).
Song Kang-ho stars as a tormented priest turned vampire after a blood transfusion in an ill-fated medical trial. The first act of the film, composed with an ecclesiastical sombreness, implicitly examines the synchronicity between vampirism and Catholicism – the passion, “this is my blood”, even flagellation – before shifting gears when Song gives in to his “thirst for all sinful pleasures.”
The sinisterly luxurious pacing of the first third accelerates; the camera begins to arc and weave with slingshot fluidity; blood flows. Candlelight and burnished wood give way to vibrant colours and deranged visions of drowned men with broad, waterlogged grins as Thirst takes a turn for the hallucinogenic (and absurdly comic). The film’s midsection is bloated, but contains mad, memorable imagery. Song’s priest’s profane partnership with a young woman (Kim Ok-bin) drives him to despair as the pair is unable to resist their dark desires, and the fun is bled out of the film, building to a remorseful, blue-hued finale.