Saturday, February 7, 2009
Ha Teaw has it all, except English subtitles
The fantasy-action drama Ha Teaw (ห้าแถว) was in cinemas in November while I was away from Thailand, and by the time I returned, it was gone.
The title, literally "five columns", refers to a tablet of Buddhist scripture. It's often seen as a tattoo inscribed on the left shoulder blade. United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie has one. And indeed it is Jolie's tattoo artist, Sompong Kanphai, who produced this very strange movie.
Because it comes from an independent production company, Five-Four-Three-Two-One Action Film, I thought that perhaps the local DVD release would break from established Thai industry practice and include the English subtitles. My hopes were up when I saw the DVD in my favorite shop yesterday morning and noted that the box says it has Thai/English subtitles.
But it was not to be. There are no subtitles at all. Though bizarrely, there are two soundtracks -- one is marked English even though it is the same Thai soundtrack. I have to wonder if the discs were improperly authored.
I'm not disappointed. Sure, I am out 150 baht, but even without subtitles, I still have a movie that treats me to the sight of a naked, hissing, gore-covered dwarf crawling out of the womb of a woman who became instantly pregnant. That is worth at least 150 baht and so much more.
Another highlight is several decently mounted fight scenes in this B-grade actioner. The stunts and blocking are rudimentary, but the camera movement is minimal and the framing is such that I could get an overall perspective of the action and get the sense that the actors are actually fighting.
The best fights involve an actress whose face is familiar but I can't place her name or where I've seen her before. She is featured in several short setpieces.
Dutch martial artist and stunt actor Ron Smoorenburg throws kicks as one of the henchmen of the lead bad guy, who is played by Tears of the Black Tiger star Chartchai Ngamsan. Smoorenburg has his head rammed through a TV screen and toward the end faces both the female fighter and the hero.
The story involves a young man (Seksun Suttijan) who stops a bus from being hijacked by armed men on horseback. He ends up in the next town, which is in the process of being taken over by the black-magic forces deployed by Chartchai's character.
In addition to the naked hissing dwarf, there is a horde of scorpions. Women are kidnapped off the street, put into a trance and made to do the bidding of the bad guys. There's even cool special effects, including a "bullet time" scene, a decapitation, and a motorcycle stunt, involving the bike being jumped over the flatcar of a moving freight train. They only offer one shot of the jump from the side, but probably wish they'd shot it head on and from another couple angles.
The cast is pretty impressive, with "Kratae" Supaksorn Chaimongkol from Handle Me With Care as the lead actress. She plays a schoolteacher in the village that's being attacked by the dark influences. She and the female fighter (who's a physical education teacher at the school) join the hero on his quest for justice or revenge or whatever. Kratae ends up being put in a trance and made to take off all her clothes. So there's that.
There's also a supporting cast of Thai comedians and character actors, including Somlek Sakdikul, Der Doksadao, Kom Chuancheun, Note Chernyim and Suthon Wechkama.
The big showdown involves the hero, who carries a supernaturally charged amulet of "ha taew" scripture, facing the black-magic endowed baddie Chartchai, who can teleport to various places. His power seems to be derived from a set of crystal balls. He has several magic tattoos, including a small scroll on his forehead, another on his throat and several inkings on his hands.
The DVD is at eThaiCD, which correctly notes that it does not have English subtitles, despite what it says on the back cover. It's a region-free PAL disc. eThaiCD also has a special-edition DVD that includes a souvenir ha taew amulet. Had I seen that version the shop yesterday morning, I might have picked that up.