Vampires, affairs, murder, suicide, and other such themes may seem like the keywords for the synopsis of 'The Bat', which is known as 'Thirst' in English. Looking back from 1992 to 2009, a span of 17 years, it is evident that 'The Bat' is a rare subject in Park Chan-wook's body of work. As a medium for revealing and criticizing reality, vampires, being considered superstitious, were an unexpected choice. Moreover, the plot of a bride turning into a vampire and becoming corrupted was difficult to accept.
Let's imagine that you have an incurable disease, and a priest who must follow strict doctrine falls in love with a woman for whom he has sympathy, but who also happens to be the wife of an old friend. The divinity and purity of the bride disappear, and she is raped. Such a plot would have caused an uproar in the religious world, with criticisms of the Catholic Church or damage to the image of the clergy. Some may have even considered it a conspiracy under the guise of so-called art. Looking through old articles, I found one titled 'Catholics criticize 'Thirst' for damaging the image of Catholic priests.'
Sang-hyeon (played by Song Kang-ho) is a priest devoted to participating in vaccine development, full of pure passion and faith. Despite his devotion, he is infected with a virus, and his harsh fate leads him to become a vampire who can only sustain his life by inflicting harm on others. This brings forth the most primitive anguish in Sang-hyeon, who is torn between his desire for blood and his duty as a priest to save others. It's an unsolvable dilemma.
We often encounter similar situations in our lives. Regardless of whether it is a zombie or a vampire, the symbolism accurately portrays the fate of a person going through a dilemma. Park Chan-wook's choice of a vampire as the motif was the most fitting. It is said that the motif was taken from Émile Zola's 'Thérèse Raquin,' but Park Chan-wook and his collaborator Jeong Seo-gyeong crafted a tightly woven screenplay
Sang-hyeon's fate is further complicated by his desire for Tae-joo (played by Kim Ok-bin), his friend's wife. Sang-hyeon's initial feelings for Tae-joo, who suffered abuse throughout her upbringing, was sympathy, but he gradually falls in love with her. He tries to win her over with aggressive and harmful acts, but he cannot resist Tae-joo's charm. Sang-hyeon's love is so intense that he puts everything on the line and even endures punishment from hell. He likely also feels shame from becoming a vampire.
The cliffhanger ending scene, filmed in Australia and depicted in the credits, is particularly memorable. Sang-hyeon's anguish is palpable, and he seems to think that going through the pain of hellfire twice is less agonizing than the despair he faces in reality.
Song Kang-ho and Kim Ok-bin deliver fantastic performances, but ultimately, Park Chan-wook presents a masterful work to the world.