'Thirst'

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Korean auteur extraordinaire Park Chan-wook's "Thirst" is a torrid expression of predatory instinct and insatiable, all-consuming love, embodied through its protagonist's difficulty in holding his day job as a priest-cum-miracle healer and his night shift as an accidental vampire and fornicating murderer.

Released domestically two weeks ahead of its Cannes Competition premiere, "Thirst" became the year's national boxoffice champion. A co-investment and co-production between CJ Entertainment and Universal Pictures (touted as a first-of-its-kind Korean-Hollywood collaboration), it will be released stateside by Focus Features. The story's extremity should arouse interest beyond the specialty Asian market.

Park takes his famed eroticization of violence, pain and cruelty to new, feverish heights and garnishes it with deliciously sadistic gallows humor. Korea's Song Kang-ho turns in a forceful yet controlled performance as Sang Hyun, a provincial priest who volunteers to undergo an experiment in Africa to find a cure for a deadly virus. He survives but becomes a vampire through an unknown blood transfusion. Unlike conventional vampires, Sang discovers that he "thirsts after all sinful pleasures." He develops a flair for mahjong, justifies his way of obtaining blood supplies and covets his childhood classmate, Kang-woo's wife Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin).

Layered with satire on religious and social hypocrisy, Sang's conflict between repression and impulse constitutes the film's most amusing and penetrating moments. However, once Tae-ju conspires with him to murder Kang-woo in what Park professed is a re-envisioning of Zola's "Therese Racquin," the characters swing between gleeful amorality and tormented conscience. The atmosphere is that of macabre farce, rather than the novel's haunting psychological depth.
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