“Vampires are cuter than I thought,” one frustrated housewife purrs to a brooding bloodsucker in Thirst, and even if the character is unhip to Twilight, Korean director Park Chan-wook certainly isn’t. Filled with romantic nuzzling and superhuman bounding up walls, Thirst also pushes the succubus genre toward its sexual omega; a pair of truly erotic nude grapplings, plus a surfeit of loud, postdubbed slurping noises make the movie a robustly physical affair. (At home, it’s been a popular scandal for its full-frontal male nudity.) The plot comes in large part from an mile Zola novel, Thrse Raquin—once we get past an African intro in which our hero, disillusioned Catholic friar Sang-hyeon (The Host’s Song), contracts a rare virus, then receives a transfusion of vampiric blood.
Back at his parish, fully healed and sensitive to scents, he attracts the attention of comely Tae-joo (Kim), unhappily married to the sickly Kang-woo (Shin) and a prisoner in her own house. Can’t you smell the blood in the air already? Director Park made an international splash with 2003’s violent revenger Oldboy, an unlikely Cannes winner, and has since done his level best to broaden his palette with, if not fewer reds, more shades of gray. Thirst works most effectively on this shifting psychological ground, as the murderous lovers become blocked by guilt, boredom and competition. Elsewhere, Park’s camera can’t help but preen, yet he’s definitely figured something out when he reduces his stylishness to an abstract white-walled apartment: an ominous lair for impure urges.—Joshua Rothkopf
Opens Fri; Landmark Sunshine. Find showtimes
See also “Twist of faith”