Friday, April 25, 2008

Review: See Phrang (4bia)

  • Directed by Yongyoot Thongkontoon, Paween Purijitpanya, Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom
  • Starring Maneerat Kham-uan, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Nuttapong Chatpong, Chermarn Boonyasak
  • Rating: 4/5

Iron Ladies yukster Yongyoot Thongkontoon should do more suspense, and Shutter/Alone horror helmer Banjong Pisanthanakun should do more comedy. On his own, Banjong's directing partner Parkpoom Wongpoom has a flair for the dramatic. And Paween Purijitpanya who did Body #19, well, he should just keep on keepin' on.

In See Phrang, also known as 4bia (or Phobia if you refuse to acknowledge the clumsy pun), four 25-minute horror segments work together to create a package that proves the gathered talent from GMM Tai Hub can actually make movie that doesn't have a nice, neat, tied-up-with-a-bow happy ending like all the GTH movies do.

That was what I was hoping for with See Phrang, and they gave it to me -- four times.

What surprised me though, was just how entertaining a horror film can be, and how much fun the good-sized audience on opening day at Major Cineplex Ekamai was having with it. And how funny it was.

What I found refreshing was how Western models of horror and suspense were referenced, though the stories were set in a Thai context. In a Daily Xpress article, Parkpoom cited Twilight Zone as an influence, but I also was reminded of Benicio Del Toro, Hitchcock and even the Hammer horror films through a filter of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg.

Unlike other horror anthologies, such as Three, which was initiated by Nonzee Nimibutr, with vastly different parts that compete against each other, the four segments of See Phrang (literally "four crossroads") work together as a package, and even reference one another, with the princess of Last Fright mentioned briefly in Happiness, and characters from In the Middle invoked in Last Fright.

Here's a breakdown of the segments:


Happiness, directed by Yongyuth Thongkontoon

In this bafflingly named segment, a young woman, Pin, has a broken leg and is left alone in her apartment on the top floor of a dingy shophouse building. Unable to move around, and with no friends nearby, she clings tightly to her pink Motorola flip phone and relies on SMS to communicate with the one apparent friend she has.

The sense of dread for poor Pin starts to ratchet up when there is a horrible racket at her door -- someone pounding the hell out of it. Pin doesn't want to answer and finally the pounding stops and an envelope is slid under. Seems it was just the landlady, demanding several months back rent. Pin is an unlucky girl. A broken leg, no friends and no money.

She then receives an SMS from a stranger, who persists in sending her messages even though she at first ignores them. Lonely, she gives in to temptation and strikes up an SMS chat session with the person, who turns out to be a guy, to her everlasting glee.

By the end of the story, Pin is mewling like a wounded cat -- causing nervous laughter from the audience -- with her back to the door as the identity of the mystery is slowly revealed through a series of increasingly menacing messages.

This small type of character study -- just one actress in one room -- is something not often seen in Thai cinema, and both the actress Manerat and her director should be applauded for pulling off a grand experiment that serves as a great beginning to the foursome of fear.

The Thai title is Ngao, which I understand to mean "loneliness". Seems more apt.



Tit for Tat, directed by Paween Purijitpanya, written by Ekasit Thairath

Paween continues with the type of production design he did with Body #19, with a story that looks lifted right out of the pages of a comic book. And indeed, the writer Ekasit wrote the comic that Chukiat Sakweerakul's 13 Beloved was based on and co-wrote Body #19.

This is the story of a clique of schoolkids who have been busted for smoking pot, and they blame a little kid for snitching on them. Some of the boys then bundle the kid and his bicycle into the back of their pickup and beat on him while they are going down the road. The violence escalates with horrible consequences. Only one of the kids, one of the two girls (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk), voices any concern.

Turns out the little kid is into black magic, and he has some books, or death notebooks if you will, that if people read them, they will meet whatever grisly end is spelled out for them.

There are a couple of moments that I think are homages to Hot Fuzz, specifically some blood on the ice cream. But in another instance, similar to the steeple fall in Hot Fuzz, when Paween should have kept the camera on the subject, he pulls back as if gun shy, or maybe just shy of the censors. It's too bad, because I wanted to see it. I wanted to jump up and shout, "Show it to me!"

Like his frustrating Body #19, Tit for Tat has its moments -- for every cool pay-off there are some annoyances -- making this the weakest segment, and the one that doesn't seem to fit with the others. Towards the end there are some fantastic CGI monsters from the comic pages, and young Apinya's expressive eyes trying so hard not to look at what's written on the page.



In the Middle, directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun

Four young guys are out camping, and are bedded down for the night in their tent telling ghost stories. Their banter is self-referential, with one of the guys revealing himself to be a serial spoiler of movies (he even has that movie-spoiler T-shirt), and right there he gives away the ending to Shutter. He also decries the horror films that all have female ghost with long black hair. "Can't they do something new?" he asks.

But they tell a story, about a guy out camping who slept by the tent door and woke up to find a female ghost sitting at his feet. Naturally, this makes the guy sleeping by the door, Ter, nervous, and he's a nervous sort anyway.

To shut them up, the guy sleeping furthest away, Aye, says “If I die, I’ll come back and haunt who ever sleeps in the middle first."

Well, what do you know, the next day, while whitewater rafting, the boat overturns and Aye is the one who doesn't make it. Or does he?

Despite the boys all being afraid, the playful, self-effacing banter keeps up. Just as hilarious are the T-shirts they are wearing, with Aye turning up with one that says simply "Bullshit", and it's a message that should not be heeded lightly.



Last Fright, directed by Parkpoom Wongpoom

Here's case of the highlights from the trailer making this story a surprise. If you've watched the trailer, or read any of the synopses, you know that Chermarn Boonyasak plays a flight attendant who has to fly solo on an empty jumbo jet with the only passenger being the body of a South Asian princess, and the wrapped-up corpse seems to come alive and terrifies the poor crew member.

So the story is infinitely more interesting when it starts as a slick soap-opera melodrama. The stewardess Pim doesn't want to be on the flight, but she's been requested. The princess turns out to be a Goth queen dressed in black with a delicious accent that places her somewhere between Romania and the Maldives.

Why Pim is on the flight, and how the princess dies are plot points that are better off finding out by watching the film.

And you should, to watch another quiet character study, of mainly one actress, on one set, gradually unraveling, from the cool, calm, carefully composed veneer of a flight attendant, to an axe-wielding crazy woman, hell bent on bringing down an airplane.

See also:

(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

1 comment:

  1. I took the opportunity to finish watching "4bia" yesterday. I actually received the movie a lot earlier, but seeing as yesterday was Halloween...

    I mostly agree with everything you said, but as a commenter on a most recent review said, do you ever wonder if you might be telling too much of the story in your reviews? I know it can be tough trying to promote a movie you enjoy, trying to figure out where to draw the line as far as describing the basic story is concerned. But in the case of the "Happiness" segment, for example, I think maybe you told a little too much.

    After watching the movie, I agree with most of your comments. As most reviewers of the film seem to agree on, "Tit for Tat" was the weakest. The shaky camera was head-ache inducing. The electric guitar driven music seemed inappropriate and out of place in the rest of "4bia". And it makes a mistake that a lot of other Horror movies make: assuming that seeing a cardboard character die every 15 minutes (or every 5 minutes in this case) is supposed to be scary on screen. I personally thought the computer generated monsters were weak.

    Ironically, I found the actual endings to the other segments to be cliche, while the way "Tit for Tat" was finally resolved genuinely surprised me.

    ReplyDelete

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