Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Review: Nymph (Nang Mai)

  • Directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang
  • Starring Wanida Terthanaporn, Nopachai Jayanama, Chamanan Wanwinwet, Pornthip Papanai
  • Released in Thai cinemas on July 1, 2009
  • Rating: 4/5

Lace up your hiking boots, set up your tent and roll out your sleeping bag. It’s time to go camping with director Pen-ek Ratanaruang and his latest movie, Nang Mai (นางไม้, English title: Nymph).

A romantic drama, ghost story and nature show combine in this thriller about a marriage that’s lost in a thicket of dysfunction.

Floating like a moth, the camera pierces the impenetrable forest in vivid detail, with every sinuous root and knotted branch becoming a lead character. The actors rightly keep their portrayals subtle. No one can compete with Mother Nature.

Pen-ek spins a taut, thrilling tale that begins with the long-ago rape of a young woman. Her screams fade, and nothing’s heard but the burbling stream and the drone of forest critters.
And then the woman’s two assailants are floating dead in the water.

In modern Bangkok, a young couple endure a troubled marriage. Whatever spark Nop and May (Wanida “Gybzy” Termthanaporn and Nopachai “Peter” Jayanama) felt when they met has long since been snuffed out.

Office worker May is having an affair with her boss Korn (Chamanan Wanwinwet). Nop, a nerdy photographer, seems focused only on his work. They barely talk to one another, and when Nop does try to get intimate he’s rebuffed.

They decide on a romantic camping trip, but the divide remains. Headache-prone May stays in the tent with her cellphone and laptop while Nop wanders the woods, photographing flora.

He’s drawn to one particular tree that seems be comprised of orgiastically intertwining limbs. He caresses the tree and puts his face in a crevice. Then he goes missing. Calls to Nop’s phone are answered, but only by the sound of heavy breathing.

May consults a pair of dryly comic forest rangers and is given an amulet necklace, but it’s no use. A mysterious figure – the nang mai or tree spirit herself (none other than Porntip Papanai) – drags May out of her tent and leaves her to sleep the night away out in the open.

Distraught, May heads back to the city and into the eager arms of Korn. Then Nop shows up. Seemingly reborn, he’s earthier and sensuous. And thirsty – he drinks a lot of water.

But then he disappears again – or was he really there? – and May seems different. Korn is alarmed. And they return to the forest. Will you dare to go with them?

Like the forest, Nymph is mysterious and foreboding. But like an ancient tree, it's worth looking at, pondering and sitting under. Strengths include the uniformly strong, understated and naturalistic performances from a fine, brave cast; a complementary subtle and creepy sound design by Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr and Koichi Shimizu and stunning camera work headed by cinematographer Charnkit Chamnivikaipong.

For the Thailand general release, Pen-ek re-edited the film, which was still in rough form when it was rushed to the Cannes Film Festival.

This new 90-minute "Director's Cut" is said to be his definitive version and will be the one that is shipped out to future film festivals and eventually to DVD.

Finally, a bit of a tearful note as the end credits roll: The film is dedicated to Wouter Barendrecht, Pen-ek's friend and producer at Fortissimo Films, who died in Bangkok on April 5, 2009. He was to have seen a rough edit of Nymph.

See also:

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(Cross-published at Daily Xpress)


  1. I found that the Thai-version is slightly disappointed for me. So, I wanna see Cannes-version badly.

  2. Are there really two versions playing? I saw it yesterday at Paragon, and it was listed as "Cannes Version". Is the re-edit also showing at other Bangkok cinemas?

  3. There really are two versions.

    Most cinemas are playing what Pen-ek calls the "Director's Cut". It's his preferred version and is the final version. It's the one that will be shown at festivals from now on, and will presumably go to DVD.

    Paragon and CentralWorld have the "Cannes Version", which is 15 minutes longer. The editing of it was rushed so that it could be screened at Cannes. It's considered "80 percent" complete by Pen-ek. He didn't really want to show it in cinemas, but the local theater chains thought it would be prestigious to show the "Cannes Version".

    I'm hoping to catch the "Cannes Version" soon so I can make comparisons.

  4. Thanks for confirming that. I'll try to see the 'director's cut' asap.


  5. They are very different. The shorter version has a faster pace, and it has music; the Cannes version has no music (like Ploy), and feels noticeably slower.


  6. I just read one of Pen-Ek's interview about Nymph. He said about the Thai version that it's on demand from Fivestar Production who wants the film goes faster and more thrilling for Thai audiences. I don't know what is the truth then, maybe the stuff about 80-percent-complete movie at Cannes is a kind of advertising?


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