Chan Park Wook has directed three of the best films of the "aughties" - Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. So the buzz around Thirst has been high. It won some awards, got major U.S. film industry backing and has been highly lauded by critics. My assessment - hype. And that sucks because I was really interested in Thirst (actually titled "The Bat" in Korean).
The story follows a Catholic priest who works in a hospital administering last rites to dying patients. Lately, when he hears confession, he adds in practical advice like "take some anti-depressants" in addition to saying a few Hail Marys. His faith is getting weakened by the constant despair and death that surrounds him and he is starting to feel that he makes no difference. He wants to "do good".
So he packs his bags and heads to Africa where he volunteers to be part of an experiment testing new procedures to vaccinate against a blood-borne pathogen called EV (not sure if this is a real disease or not). The drugs fail, he catches the disease, starts vomiting blood, is given a blood transfusion and dies anyway. Only to reawaken on the operating table a few minutes after being declared dead. And within 6 months he is completely cured of the disease. But, it turns out that this came with a price and the priest soon starts craving all kinds of sinful and spooky things - namely women and blood, though more specifically, the wife of an old childhood friend whom he recently met up with again. Don't ask me how he winds up craving these sorts of things, it's never explained. This is fine on it's own, I guess, except that the lack of explanation becomes part of a more broad theme within the movie - inconsistency and fuzzy narrative.
There is a lot here that could have worked really well. The love triangle thing is somewhat explored, but could have packed a bigger emotional whallop. The social / existential commentary on the nature of good and evil (how evil can one be when the "evil" nature is something completely out of one's control) is explored early on, but not too deeply. And there are some creepy revisionist vampire themes that are pretty cool, not too mention some fairly gross scenes that really let on very little gore - example: removing the feeding tube from a comatose hospital patient and sucking the blood out backwards like a smoothie. I just cringed at the thought of it, mainly because he was lying on his back relaxing like he was sipping from a margarita on the beach).
Park Chan-wook has been pretty clear that he was more interested in the "illicit love triangle" portion than the vampire portion, and that's obvious. In fact, Thirst is kind of the adult, R-rated version of Twilight with the vampirism playing a peripheral role for about half of the movie.
Overall, the interesting aspects of the film are overshadowed by it's length (it feels loooooong) and the slow and far too plodding pace. And, like a lot of Asian "art" horror, it tends to get tripped up in symbolism and metaphors, becoming confusing and rambling, often with no explanation or resolution. Despite the ambition, the willingness and desire to create an intelligent and grown-up vampire movie, the end result is that it's really just boring. Pass this one up and rent Sympathy for Lady Vengeance instead. Or wait for the U.S. remake which will be dumbed down because you know it's coming.