Finally there's a vampire movie worthy of the title The Hunger—even if it arrives under a more potable name. Carnal appetite, not a parched palate, is the accelerant that fuels this perverse, prankish, and merrily anticlerical exercise in bloodletting from Park Chan-wook (Oldboy), whose films function like the moral-retribution mechanisms in the Saw movies—traps with no way out but a permanently scarring exit. South Korean superstar Song Kang-ho, from The Host and Park's Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, plays a priest who nobly sacrifices himself to a deadly vaccine trial, only to emerge with what looks like the gift of divine healing. In truth it's a newfound hunger for blood and other unnamable desires—and it meets its insatiable match in Tae-joo (Kim Ok-vin, in a star-making show of erotic fireworks), the dissatisfied wife of the priest's childhood friend. Park's plotting borrows mightily from Émile Zola's proto-noir Thérèse Raquin—albeit with Zola's naturalism embellished by superhuman powers, CGI rooftop leaps, and color-coordinated bloodshed. But the movie plays as malicious mischief, diverting but curiously weightless. Shifting from clinical cool to hothouse fever, Thirst settles for a macabre jollity as the unlikable characters affix nastily ironic fates to each other. Even so, Park's voluptuous style and the shocking, slurpy physicality of the movie's sex scenes offer a welcome antidote to the zipless bloodsucking of Twilight, the vampire movie for vegetarians.
Song (right) becomes Kims protector.
Opens at Varsity, Fri., Aug. 14. Rated R. 134 minutes.