Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: Plon Na Ya 2 Ai Yah!

  • Directed by Poj Arnon
  • Starring Jaturong Pollabong, Charoenporn Onlamai, Kirk Schiller, Somchai Kemklad, Pharanyu Rotchanawutthitham, Thana Sutthikmon, Treechada Marnyaporn, Bongkot Kongmalai
  • Released in Thai cinemas on April 5, 2012; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

With great trepidation, I checked out Poj Arnon's latest katoey comedy and was surprised when a half-decent action film broke out. Not only that, amid the usual shreiking and carrying on by the transgender cast and comedians in drag, the story was even more-or-less coherent, despite increasingly outlandish plot complications – a remarkable accomplishment for a Poj Arnon film.

Plon Na Ya 2 Ai Yah! (ปล้นนะยะ 2 อั๊ยยยย่ะ) is the sequel to Poj Arnon's 2004 katoey comedy remake of Dog Day Afternoon, Spicy Beautyqueen in Bangkok, about financially struggling transgender folks who form a gang in order to rob a bank.

The first film featured Nang Nak and Bang Rajan leading man Winai Kraibutr in a admireably committed performance as a cabaret dancer who needs cash for a sex-change operation. Spicy Beautyqueen also gained notoriety after Louis Vuitton's agressive copyright watchdogs demanded the removal of LV logos from the outlandish soccer-themed costume worn by gang leader Jaturong "Mokjok" Pollaboon. So now, thanks to LV's lawyers, if you watch Spicy Beautyqueen, the entire latter half of the movie has Jaturong's Louis Vuitton knock-off dress blurred out with the same kind of pixellation smudges that prevent Thai TV viewers from seeing such offensive acts as smoking, drinking alcohol or guns pointed at heads.

Plon Na Ya 2 picks up the story eight years later. Winai isn't back, but Jaturong's character is. He, or rather she, has returned to Thailand after a stint in New Zealand. Also returning from the first film is Charoenporn "Khotee" Onlamai's character who was killed off previously but had a twin running a sheep ranch in New Zealand. Initially a straight-acting man, he's convinced by his "madam" Jaturong to adopt her cross-dressing lifestyle and he takes to it rather quickly.

Joining the cast this time around is Kirk Schiller, playing a flamboyant transgender friend of Jaturong's character. Together, they plan to undergo sex-change surgery at the same time. He keeps his mustache and goatee beard, and offers a coarse explanation as to why late in the film.

That same morning, Somchai Kemklad and several young guys from Poj Arnon's limitless stable are heading off to work. If you remember the first film, you might recall Somchai had a cameo as a pizza-delivery guy, and if you don't remember there's a black-and-white flashback that also briefly reveals Jaturong's forbidden Louis Vuitton dress. It's Somchai's first day on the job as the driver of a Bangkok city bus, and his brother is among the passengers. Ripping a page from current-events headlines as Poj Arnon often does, gangster students from rival technical schools start a brawl aboard the bus. Gunshots are fired and the driver's brother is seriously wounded.

Fast-moving events bring the folks from the bus shooting to the same hospital where the sex-change patients are having their operations.

With the arrival of armed gangsters, the situation escalates into a hostage stand-off with the police.

And then there's a fairly entertaining car chase that has the transgender folks, hostages and the bus gang getting mixed up with victims fleeing from the thugs of a gambling kingpin. They are driving their cars while wearing motorcycle helmets that turn out to be rigged to explode if they try to remove them.

And there is indeed an explosion, with one of the cars blowing up. An outtake reel at the end of the movie shows the car did a corkscrew rollover and landed upright before exploding. I'm not sure why that cool stunt didn't make it into the movie.

With breathless implausibility, the transgender criminals, the bus gang, the hostages from the hospital and a surviving gambling kingpin captive band together to plan a robbery of the gambling kingpin's mansion.

Here's another chance for the costume designers – a department overseen by Poj Arnon himself – to go hog wild with exagerrated wigs and colorful sequined cabaret gowns. Even Somchai Kemklad dons drag.

Also joining the cast time around is transgender beauty queen "Poy" Treechada Marnyaporn playing a helpful surgeon named Yingluck. Surely it's no coincidence that Yingluck happens to be the name of Thailand's first female prime minister. She dons a mid-riff-baring drag-queen outfit and gets into the spirit of the caper by saucily helping to "seduce" the gambling kingpin's henchmen.

And "Tak" Bongkot Kongmalai takes part in the proceedings as one of the motorcycle-helmet-bomb captives who joins with the robbery scheme. She and Poj Arnon had earlier feuded during the production of the action film Dangerous Flowers, a.k.a. Chalee's Angels, but they've apparently patched things up.

More shooting, shouting and brandishing of weapons ensues and our heroines and heroes eventually make their escape to South Korea for another chance at sex-change surgery. Khotee, Kirk and Jaturong all don traditional Korean costumes and pose for Thai tourists. Somchai and his cohorts get a chance to wear stylish cold-weather gear and play at being Korean gangsters. And there are more outtakes reels in which live octopuses are harmed – something all Thai movies shot in South Korea must be compelled to show.

It all mostly works, somehow, thanks mainly to the humorous charm of rotund little cross-dressing comedian Khotee who always manages to be funny even in the most dire circumstances.

As confusing as this all sounds, I was surprised at how tolerable Plon Na Ya 2 was. Nonetheless, I won't be waiting with bated breath for Plon Na Ya 3, as inevitable as it seems.

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