By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated July 31, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

Did you hear the one about the Korean priest who becomes a vampire? All he wants is to do good for humanity, so he volunteers for an experimental vaccine to treat a deadly ?blood disease. Next thing you know, he’s one of the undead, revered by the populace for the ?apparent miracle of his healing — and wrestling with bloody appetites inflamed by proximity to a beautiful, unhappy young woman who’s the wife of his childhood friend. This devout man’s idea of a good drink is one of the transfusion bags hanging in the hospital where he prays for the souls of the wretched. Off duty, he drains their precious bodily fluids.

There’s more, much more in Thirst, a gaudy, daring, operatic, and bloody funny provocation of a melodrama from Park Chan-wook. The stylistically elegant bad boy of Korean cinema (auteur of the revenge trio Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and Lady Vengeance) makes clever leaps between longings of the spirit and desires of the flesh, as well? as between the traditions and strictures of old Korean culture and the lures and confusions of the new. As the thirsty priest, Song Kang-ho, a regular Park repertory player and Korea’s leading movie star, looks great whether he’s covered with pustules or naked and clear-skinned, lusting for flesh. And in the role of a miserable wife dominated by her bossy mother-in-law, former beauty-pageant winner Kim Ok-vin bursts into demented, aroused radiance once bitten by the thirsty priest. As ever, the filmmaking in Thirst is gorgeous, every shot a keeper, even as blood flows in rivers and hell beckons. A?

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