Monday, October 26, 2009

Review: Slice (Cheun)

  • Written and directed by Kongkiat Komesiri; story by Wisit Sasanatieng
  • Starring Chatchai Plengpanich, Arak Amornsupasiri, Jessica Pasaphan
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 22, 2009; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 5/5

There's a serial killer on the loose in Thailand. Draped in flowing red rain poncho, the killer preys on men who are committing kinky and depraved sex acts. The victims have been repeatedly stabbed and hacked up. All have their genitals cut off, which are generally stuffed ... somewhere else. Also the victims are generally bundled up in a large red suitcase. And they are connected to very powerful and wealthy people.

A corrupt cop, Lieutenant Chin (Chatchai Plengpanich -- looking the part of a scumbag, with dirty bleached blond hair and grimy Hawaiian shirts -- is on the case. Papa Chin, as he's called by some, is told by a government minister -- father of the most recent victim -- that he has 15 days to solve the case and bring the killer to justice. Or else Chin can take responsibility for the killings himself.

Desperate, Chin turns to the one man he doesn't want to use -- Tai ("Pe" Arak Amornsupasiri), a former undercover cop from his unit, who's serving a prison sentence for a crime that isn't made clear until needs to be. Tai takes care of Chin's dirty work inside the walls, and knows too many secrets.

But Tai believes he knows the killer. They were friends in childhood.

There is a raw, rugged and artfully lit grittiness to Chuen (เฉือน, Slice), this gory-laden crime thriller by Kongkiat Komesiri, who wrote the script and shares cinematography credits. He's previously directed the boxing-underworld drama Muay Thai Chaiya and was a co-director of the Art of the Devil occult thriller series. The story is by Wisit Sasanatieng, who's previously scripted such Thai cinema classics as the ghost drama Nang Nak and Daeng Bireley's and Young Gangsters and directed such films as the cult western Tears of the Black Tiger and the satiric romantic comedy Citizen Dog. Slice is another that will be mentioned along with all those.

Though it's mostly set in contemporary times, Slice looks and feels much older, as if it's a lost social-message film out of the 1970s.

But it is clearly a Thai film of 2009 and the Kingdom's newly enacted motion-picture ratings system. Free from the scissors and Vaseline of the censors, it has images that not even MC Chatrichalerm Yukol could have gotten away with in his social-message films of the '70s and '80s.

Slice takes a deliciously demented headlong dive into a pit of depravity, with a visit to a high-society orgy club, where everyone is slain. And there's a long gaze at the bare butt and air-brushed prison tats of Pe Arak. Rated 18+, the nudity and violence have been carefully calculated, with shadows covering up any offending full-frontal nudity or sex acts.

Tai is released from prison and he drives his battered Subaru back to his hometown to dig up clues. The story then toggles back and forth from the present day back to Tai's childhood, when he developed a friendship with a troubled boy named Nut who was abused by his father and bullied by all the other kids, who taunted him because they believed he's gay. Even Tai participated in the bullying of Nut, when he wanted to become part of the gang. Eventually though, Tai can't take seeing Nut bullied, and he takes on the role of Nut's protector. They form an intimate friendship, flying kites (there's probably an idiomatic Thai metaphor there) and hanging out in an old barn atop a hill and enjoying the solitude.

The present-day town isn't as idyllic -- it's gone to hell and is now a den of prostitution. Perhaps if Tai had time to hang around, he'd pick up a stick and be like Joe Don Baker's Buford Pusser in Walking Tall.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Chin is keeping a watchful eye on Noi, Tai's hairdresser girlfriend, as insurance that Tai brings in the case.

As Tai recalls more of his childhood and gets closer to the truth of the present day, the noose of suspense tightens, and there is nothing else for the dangling body of the story to do than to kick, spin and violently twist.

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