Thursday, June 10, 2010

Review: Po Taek

  • Directed by Petthai Wongkumlao
  • Starring Pettai Wongkumlao, Thep Po-ngam
  • Released in Thai cinemas on June 3, 2010; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Petthai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkumlao pulls back the veil over Thai movie-industry magic for the self-deprecating comedy Po Taek (โป๊ะแตก), in which the major butt of jokes is his old mentor, veteran comedian, actor and director Thep Po-ngam.

Thep, who in real life has been having financial problems, appears in Mum's office at Bang Fai Productions – a shop where Mum holds all the job titles, from executive producer down to janitor. Thep's bowing and scraping, hoping to make an ambitious, meaningful, highly personal project that he's been wanting to do for a long time, but is immediately dismissed by Mum and instead roped into making an action comedy the studio has starting that very day.

Soon Thep finds himself standing next to a Brahmin priest going through the traditional prayer ceremony at the start of production, only this rite is accompanied by a marching band, hip gyrations and heads whacked with urinal bottles and serving trays.

There's shenanigans on the craft-service line as the slovenly caterer only uses his hands to dish up the food.

A husband-and-wife comedy team work out their real-life marriage problems onscreen, with the wife putting her foot down, on her husband's chest. The spousal bickering blows a lid when skantily clad young actress Cherry Supaporn comes to the set and has her cleavage rammed head-first by the husband comic, and then Mum, who wants to show him how to do it. This brings Mum's stern wife to the set for a fierce tongue lashing.

There's also weird tongue action going on in a bedroom scene involving Cherry, Teng and Nong.

Even the stuntmen don't escape the comic barbs, as a trio of amputee pyrotechnic experts show up and mistime their explosions.

In another scene, Thep wrecks the stunt car. He's bleeding from his bald dome, but Mum and everyone else is only concerned with whether the old car can be used again.

The jokes come fast and furious and had the audience in stitches for the first hour or so. By the last half hour, the jokes are more mean-spirited, the laughs are fewer and further between and the premise wears off as it becomes apparent this is simply a loose collection of satiric gags about movie-making and not much of a story.

I appreciated the smaller moments, like when Mum is just hanging out with his crew while there's downtime, and he asks anyone if they have something funny to talk about. I got the sense it was something real. It's insight into Mum's hands-on directing style, which has him jumping up from behind his monitor to actually show the actors what he wants, rather than try and explain it.

The all-star cast includes Mum's TV comedy co-horts Pongsak "Teng Terdterng" Pongsuwan, Choosak "Nong Chachacha" Iamsuk, Kom Chuanchuen, Note Chern-yim, Ping Lumprapleung, Apaporn Nakonsawan and "Tukky" Sudarat Butrprom.

A notable player is dreadlocked Thai-speaking Ghanian comedian Johnson Amidou, who's been featured in Thep's movies, among them the African adventure Duk Dum Dui. Johnson holds his own against the dimwits Teng and Nong, and eventually storms off the set after putting up with so much abuse.

When the time comes for Johnson's scene, it's the long-suffering Nong – who's complained about his small, ridiculous roles in The Bodyguard movies – to don not only blackface, but entire black, nearly naked body.

It's tasteless, politically incorrect humor, but that's what sells. Po Taek debuted at No. 1, according to Box Office Mojo, earning around 23 million baht and following on the heels of another smash-hit movie-making parody, Sam Yan, from rival studio Film R Us.

With that kind of money being banked, I'm sure that Mum and his producers at Work Point, Baa-Ram-Ewe and Sahamongkolfilm are already thinking of more ways to skewer their own industry.

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