- Directed by Peter Manus
- Produced by Manop Udomdej
- Starring Bongkot Kongmalai, Chalat na Songkla, Achiraya Pirapatkulchaya, Prangthong Changdham, Suthirach Charnukul
- Released in Thai cinemas on September 11, 2008
- Rating: 3/5
"They're using the Thai people as lab rats."
They, of course, are horrible, evil, arrogant, lying Westerners -- the farangs. They are exploiting the humble, kind-hearted, honest, hard-working Thais in Burn (คนไฟลุก, Khon Fai Look), a slick, stylish thriller about how a drug company is causing an outbreak of spontaneous human combustion (SHC) in Thailand.
Bongkot "Tak" Kongmalai stars. She plays Mona, a trader for a securities brokerage. She's on the upwardly mobile path, possibly even headed for New York City, if she can better master her phonetic English, and stop promising her clients a return on their investments.
"Never promise," her farang boss admonishes her.
She's got a great apartment, overlooking the river, the Bangkok skyline and the Rama III bridge. The camera lingers over her sensuously as she goes about her morning routine, picking out her designer pumps, custom-made spectacles and a white blouse that's sheer enough to reveal the pattern of her bra. She still takes a taxi, though, and makes the driver swing past the airport so she can watch planes -- dreaming of another place perhaps.
But while she's spending time planespotting or lingering in front of her mirror, admiring how great she looks in her glasses, her sick mother is calling and calling. Mum is on her daughter's company's health-care plan, and it doesn't appear to be helping. Mona has lost all patience for her frail mother, who's still running the family business, selling rice from a humble old shophouse. For some reason, she wants to borrow money from mum -- Mona has apparently overextended herself, despite her high-paying gig. Mona then tells her mother those words that no Thai parent wants to hear from their child/retirement plan: "Take care of yourself."
Those words will haunt Mona, and will eat away inside the guts of her mother, causing so much pain that early the next morning, mum spontaneously bursts into flames and burns up in her bed, leaving a pile of ash where her torso was and her head, arms and legs left out the flames like the ends of logs on a campfire.
On the case is young police detective Don (Chalat na Songkhla). He wants to investigate it thoroughly, but his senior partner Wang (Suthirach Charnukul), says there's no time, there's other cases, etc. He's ordered to close the file. It's being swept under the rug.
Reporter Kwan (Prangthong Changdham) is hanging around, and asks if Mona wants to know the truth about how her mother died. All that promising development of Mona's character is promptly forgotten as Mona, Detective Don and nosey Kwan find out more about SHC. Mona stops her mother's cremation mid-burn and gets Don to agree to have the body autopsied.
For too long, things are not terribly exciting, except for a brief moment when a hapless passenger bursts into flames in a green microbus. Detail shots, like grains of rice falling from a sack and some old boats in the canal, are lovely, but feel like padding for what is really just around 60 minutes of solid storytelling.
Mona's mum's body is stolen. Mona and Don -- acting against direct orders -- go to the Terradyne Clinic where mum was treated and are immediately suspicious. But nurse Ploy (Achiraya Pirapatkulchaya) overhears. Helpfully, she lays her hands on Mona's mum's file, and says she's worried about her own mother. She then joins Mona and Don on the case.
Then things get weird, in a good way, with some kind of occult ceremony and an old woman chanting over Ploy's mum, who is in obvious pain, gripping her belly. And then Ploy's mum bursts into flames.
The game is afoot. A conspiracy becomes even more obvious. Mona and Ploy think it was a drug their mothers were taking, and they track it down to a lab owned by Terradyne. An exploding bunny is caught on a cellphone camera, and farang thugs come out of the woodwork. Mona kicks up a ruckus, cracks a shaven-headed farang over the head with a fire extinguisher and makes her escape with a drugged Ploy. The action comes to a head in a gunfight on the docks between the farang gang and Detective Don.
Performances are uniformly even and competent. Perhaps Tak has been watching CSI: Miami from the way she dramatically removes her glasses, Caruso style. Chalat is a solid, stoical leading man. Wide-eyed Achiraya makes the best of things. And the cast of farang bad guys all appear confident, which is unusual in a Thai movie -- it helps when their lines are scripted and they can hear direction in their own language.
But the way the movie is set up -- beginning and ending on the courthouse steps, and taking place in a flashback through the bespectacled eyes of Mona -- takes the intensity out of the suspense, since it's pretty clear how it's going to end.