Sunday, January 18, 2009

Review: The Fatality (Tok Tra Phee)


  • Directed by Tiwa Moeithaisong
  • Starring Kenji Wu, Pitchanart Sakhakorn, Matt Wu, Somlek Sakdikul
  • Released in Thai cinemas on January 15, 2009
  • Rating: 2/5

Thai officialdom's obsession with stamps and forms manifests itself vividly in The Fatality, a rather odd psychological ghost thriller .

Somehow, a mentally disturbed 30-year-old man from Taipei finds himself waking up out of a coma in a hospital in a small coastal town in Thailand.

A woman is at his bedside, calling him Assanee. But that's not his name. His name is Her Sue Yong. And besides, he can't speak Thai. He leaps from his bed and runs, and the nurses give chase.

In Taiwan, he was a bedraggled, long-haired scavenger. He had a disfigured face. But in Thailand, the skin on his face is smooth and his hair is short. He's a clean-cut young man with a beautiful wife. And he has a job as a civil servant in a government office. His inability to speak Thai is no problem at work. Heck, there's even a deaf-mute on the staff. All Assanee has to do is wait for people to hand him forms, and he stamps them. Seems easy enough.

But things that aren't quite right. For one thing, the woman named Nakul (Pitchanart Sakhakorn) - Assanee's wife - doesn't seem very happy to have Assanee out of his coma. And this new Assanee has some pretty disturbing habits, like yanking on the steering wheel when she's driving to avoid hitting an imaginary oncoming car. Plus, she had another guy that started coming around while Assanee was in a coma. So her feelings are divided.

Gradually though, Assanee, or Her Sue Yong, starts to come around. He learns to speak Thai and gets back into the groove at work, with counselling from Dr. Stanley (Matt Wu). The doctor didn't want to accept Assanee as a case, but being the only one one on staff who can speak Mandarin, the duty fell to him. And it turns out that Dr. Stanley has quite an important role to play.

But Assanee is seeing dead people. They are around every corner. They fill the tunnel he has to drive through to get to work. He can't get them to leave him alone. They keep presenting papers to him.

The papers are death certificates, and Assanee learns that it's his duty to stamp them. He's the only civil servant who dead people in Thailand can come to, to have their certificates duly stamped so they can get out of limbo. And what a stamp it is - not your typical little rubber thing with an ink pad - it's a huge iron press with gears and a lever, and it's in a passage underneath a trap door in the floor behind his desk at work. It leaves a big, bloody, slimy mark of a wheel on the paper -- the same mark Assanee/Her Sue Yong has on one of his arms. So Assanee spends his nights catching up on stamping those certificates. At dawn, he's still at the office, sleeping on the floor where the trap door appears.


His wife wakes him up in the morning, and it turns out that Assanee was doing this before he slipped into a coma. She tries to have the bad spirits exorcised by monks, but the ceremony doesn't work out as planned.

It's unclear how Assanee went into a coma in the first place, but Assanee's soul and the soul of the suicidal, depressed Her Sue Yong are clearly linked. Lines that shouldn't be crossed are. Assanee's malevolent personality emerges and there is a confusing and complex battle between souls.

The Fatality starts off well enough with small, creepy little jump scares. But when ghosts are popping out of every nook and cranny, well, it just gets old quick and it's not scary anymore.

Still, the atmosphere is unsettling, mostly at the creeky old Victorian-age wooden office building Kenji works in.

There's game comic relief from Somlek Sakdikul, as Assanee's gregarious boss, and comic actress Pajaree na Nakorn as a chirpy co-worker. Character actor Ampon Rattanawong is hanging around in the scenery, helping to set Assanee up for a fall. And Wiyada Umarin, classic film actress of the 1970s, is in there somewhere.

The psychological drama is more palpable than the attempts at horror, and Kenji Wu is extremely watchable as the conflicted personality of Assanee/Her Sue Yong.

And there's the conflicting logic and motivation of Pitchanart's character Nakul, who can't make up her mind whether she wants Assanee back or whether she loves Her Sue Yong or maybe she'll run off with that other guy who was hanging around.

That's where the movie runs into frustrating trouble, and ultimately ends up being a disappointment - it fails to come to any kind of logical conclusion and never makes up its mind about what kind of movie it wants to be.


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