- Written and directed by Parm Rangsi
- Starring Krissada Sukosol Clapp, Supaksorn Chaimongkol, Chalee Muangthai
- Limited release in SF Cinemas on August 1, 2013; rated 18+
- Wise Kwai's rating: 2/5
"I hate graveyards and old pawnshops. For they always bring me to tears," John Prine wrote in his song "Souvenirs".
And Prine might have the same sentiment for the low-budget Thai horror Pawnshop (โลงจำนำ, Long Jam Nam), though the tears might not necessarily be of sadness, but of sheer frustration and impatience for a dull movie that goes nowhere.
Directed by Parm Rangsi, who previously did the cooking comedy Daddy's Menu (เมนูของพ่อ, Menu Khong Phor), Pawnshop is latest in a string of low-budget horrors released by B-movie marque Golden A Entertainment.
It wears its pretensions as an "art-house horror" on its sleeve, with plenty of nifty point-of-view camera angles, shadows, smoke, theatrical-style staging and lots of spattering fake blood. It looks pretty, but there isn't much beneath the surface.
Selfishly I suppose, I was kind of hoping for something like the U.S. reality-TV series Pawn Stars, which is strangely addictive and entertaining because of its wacky cast and the endless parade of weird artifacts brought in by their customers.
But no. The depressing Pawnshop is run by possibly the worst pawnbroker in the world, a cruel, unscrupulous dealer who has no intentions of giving any of his customers a square deal. The customers have no redeeming qualities, each being motivated by their own bad situations or simple greed to deal with the dodgy pawnbroker. And, there is a curious lack of curios on display in a shop that should be jam-packed with junk – a sure tip-off that this is a pawnshop best steered clear of.
You see, the pawnbroker Long Zhu (Chalee Muangthai), doesn't ever seem to buy anything. He only trades for people's souls, hence the Thai title Long Jam Nam, or literally "coffin pledge". The souls he takes are then in turn used to feed a malevolent, vengeful ghost he's pledged his life to. She was a classical Thai dancer long ago, but was raped and murdered. Now she vomits an endless stream of blood. And Long Zhu will do anything to keep the ghost on his side, even commit murder. However, it can't be a very good trade, because Long Zhu is still living in a dingy, dusty little pawnshop.
The deals invariably go like this: the customers come in with the items they want to sell and they state their ridiculous price, say 600,000 baht for a few flea-market trinkets. Long Zhu then counter-offers with an equally ridiculous price, say 30,000 baht.
"But," he says. "I can offer you more for something else." And, for that 600,000 baht or maybe even 1 million baht, the deal is you have to trade your soul.
The customers' eyes light up at the prospect. "Well, I wasn't using it anyway," their thinking probably goes.
Of course there's a catch to all this – the customers must spend the night in a room at the pawnshop, and if there's "an accident", there will be no pay-off.
Among the easily duped customers is a guy named Neung, played by Krissada Sukosol Clapp. A pub owner, he has the unfortunate habit of driving home drunk and falling asleep at the wheel. Something bad happened, and now is wife (Supaksorn Chaimongkol) is mad at him. So he plans to sell some of his stuff to the pawnbroker to raise money and get out of whatever mess he's in.
To pad out the running time, there are other customers – some other guy whose story is forgotten about completely, a young woman who is there to defiantly prove her fearlessness, and, in the words of the pawnbroker, "a fat gay guy", whose boyfriend lost all his money gambling on English Premier League soccer.
In addition to the pawnbroker, there are a couple of young women, presumably his daughters, who still hang around this mean old man for no apparent reason, and a couple of shady guys who help finalize the deals.
It takes forever for the movie to get around to spilling the beans about the horrible thing Neung did, even though it's been explained in most of the synopses made available online – he ran over a little girl and wants to raise money to pay for her hospital treatment.
But instead of making clear what Neung's got at stake and making him a more-sympathetic character from the start, the story takes a seemingly endless path that's filled with dead ends and cul-de-sacs.
It's a vacuum that must be filled with something, and that something is the formidable presence of Noi Sukosol, who in this "art-house film" is given space to lose his shit Nicolas Cage-style and go over the top with a performance that seems to belong in another film entirely.
He is given to outlandish temper tantrums, in which he gets into awkward shouting matches with his shrewish wife (Kratae Supaksorn in a thankless role). He hits himself in the face, repeatedly, and bangs his head against the well. And, in a master stroke, when confronted by the pawnshop spirit, gets into a slapping contest with the ghost.
The talents of the intense, brooding Noi, the energetic lead singer of the rock band Pru, have been well-used in bigger-budget movies, such as Antapal or 13: Game of Death, or better-written small-budget indies like A Moment in June, but here, when there's little else happening around him, he's just too much.
Noi's antics had the audience of around six people in a late weeknight screening in stitches. And I don't think comedy was what was intended by anyone involved with the making of this picture.
- Pawnshop official trailer (embedded below)