Two of the three Thai films opening locally this Thursday are youth oriented -- the animated ghost story Nak from Sahamongkol, and the children's film, Dream Team, featuring a cast of kindergarten boys who are in a bid to win a national tug-of-war contest.
Art of the Devil 3 is decidedly a film for audiences who are at least teenagers, though with no ratings system yet in place, neither moviegoers nor the cinema operators have a guideline to prevent small children from being traumatized and desensitized by images of black magic, torture and bloodletting.
Nak is the one I'm most anticipating out of this batch, though I am keeping my expectations low. I don't think Nak is going to be Thailand's answer to Miyazaki or Satoshi Kon, but hey, at least somebody is trying. Colorful and cute, Nak is yet another iteration of the famous Mae Nak Phra Khanong ghost myth -- most memorably adapted in Nonzee Nimibutr's Nang Nak in 1999. This kid-friendly animated ghost isn't the vengeful wife of the legend. Here, she's a wide-eyed, pink-hued defender of the human race against some bad ghosts.
Says producer Boyd Kosiyabongse, in a recent story from the Daily Xpress:
We didn’t want to repeat the same old story, and besides, it’s too scary for animation. We show modern ghosts as the villains. Times have changed. Today’s ghosts are violent – they hurt people for no reason. It’s very different from the Thai ghost films I saw as a kid. They were spooky, but entertaining.”
Initially I thought this was a 3D-animated featured, but it's traditional two-dimensional. It's also the first Thai animated feature with show anime influences. Previous animated features -- 1979's Sudsakorn Adventures, 2006's 3D-animated Khan Kluay and last year's Life of Buddha all had a look that was more akin to Disney. Though anime's influence is seen in cartoons on Thai TV (and manga in Thai comics), there simply aren't that many Thai animated features because they are so labor intensive -- it's cheaper to make a live-action film.
Producer Boyd is a singer-songwriter better known for his syrupy servings of acoustic Thai pop. His latest partnership with Moderndog's Pod is a nauseating example. But he's been doing animation for awhile, heading up his own BBoyd CG studio, which did a Dracula Tok cartoon for TV. Boyd wanted to make a feature version of Dracula Tok, based on a character portrayed by famous comic actor Lor Tok, so he went to Sahamongkol Film International. There, studio boss Somsak Techaratanaprasert asked Boyd to take on the Mae Nak story instead, and Boyd was then paired up with producer Prachya Pinkaew. Comedian Mum Jokmok was brought in to voice the character of Phee Hua Kad, the headless ghost, after another actor, Thongchai Prasongsanti, had already been cast. Narawan Techratanaprasert voices one of the kids. Nak is voiced by singer-actress Sasikarn Apichartworrasilp. The director of the film is Natthapong Rattanachoksirikul.
According to the Daily Xpress article, the budget was initially set at 25 million baht, but the film ended up costing 40 million, which is still vastly less than other recent animated features, Khan Kluay and The Life of Buddha, which ended up costing hundreds of millions.
From RS Film, Dream Team is about a group of pint-sized boys who enter a national tug-of-war contest (based on the actual kindergarten games that take place in Thailand). It is directed by Kittikorn Liawsirikul (Ahimsa: Stop to Run, Bus Lane) and stars Kiat Kitjaroen and singer Sakolrat “Four” Woraurai and a bunch of 5-year-old boys. If done right, it could be a family friendly answer to the likes of Dodgeball, Balls of Fury and Talladega Nights.
Art of the Devil 3 has been covered extensively already. This is a prequel to Art of the Devil 2, which had nothing to do storywise with the first Art of the Devil film. Napakpapha "Mamee" Nakprasitte stars as a black-magic torture mistress, with Supakorn Kitsuwan figuring in here somewhere, too.
I don't get this particular brand of horror, but in the vein of Saw and Hostel, it is wildly popular and should prove lucrative for Five Star Production. Peter Nellhaus of Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee sums up the appeal of the film series in a recent review of the first two films:
The devil is a woman in both of these films, practicing witchcraft to seek revenge. The films are for those either with less discriminating tastes in horror films, or an abiding love for Thai films made for Thai audiences.
The first two Art of the Devil films are available as a box set with English subtitles and English-dubbed soundtrack.