After gaining fame for geopolitical thriller Joint Security Area and the gorgeously violent Vengeance trilogy, in 2009 director Park Chan-wook turned to horror with his own take on the vampire mythos. In the decadent era of Twilight fandom, Thirst (Bakjwi) was a timely panacea. The film, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes, stars Song Kang-ho as priest Sang-hyeon who agrees to participate in a medical experiment to develop a cure for a mystery disease sweeping Africa. As you might expect, he turns into a vampire instead.
Sang-hyeon struggles with his convictions as a man of God and healer while beset by the temptations of his new condition. This gets more difficult after he becomes involved with and turns Tae-joo (Kim Ok-bin), the exploited and abused wife of a childhood friend. Unlike him, she feels no guilt and revels in her new bloody lifestyle. Their psycho-sexual dynamic drives the film toward a brilliant, wordless conclusion.
Dark humor, Catholic themes, and exploration of perverse sexuality pervade the film, a loose adaptation of Émile Zola's Thérèse Raquin, while avoiding many tired tropes. Director Park deliberately removed elements of vampire lore that you might otherwise expect in a vampire film with heavily Catholic themes, such as vampiric aversion to the crucifix and garlic. As Park told Ain't It Cool News, "They put garlic into everything in Korea. So, if you're scared of garlic, there's no drop of blood you can feed on in Korea."