- Written and directed by Wisit Sasanatieng
- Starring Jannine Wiegel, Phongsakon Tosuwan, Sa-ad Piampongsan
- Released in Thai cinemas on December 3, 2015; rated 15+
- Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5
After a five-year hiatus from commercial filmmaking, Wisit Sasanatieng has been coaxed back to the director's chair by the studio M-Thirtynine with Runpee (รุ่นพี่, a.k.a. Senior), an artfully directed ghost comedy that successfully merges old-fashioned horror thrills with contemporary teen romance.
Penned by Wisit, the story is about an outcast weirdo at a Catholic girls' boarding school. She has a special nose. Unlike the kid in The Sixth Sense, the olfactorily gifted girl Mon (Ploychompoo Jannine Weigel) can't see dead people, she smells them. More specifically, she can sniff out the troubled spirits who are still lurking in our realm.
Her unique talent leads her to develop a connection with a boy ghost (Bom Phongsakon Tosuwan) who was a student when the place was a business school in the 1980s, before it was a church convent. Together, they investigate a murder that occurred there some 50 years before, when the school was the palace home of a princess, who was found beaten, bloodied and very much dead in her swimming pool. Her gardener took the fall for the death, but there was more to the case than met the eye.
It's an old-timey Thai setting right out of Wisit's 2000 debut feature, Fah Talai Jone (Tears of the Black Tiger), and that western's trademark raspberry-jelly blood splatter is evident in key scenes. Runpee also has echoes of Wisit's 2006 Gothic horror Pen Choo Kub Pee (The Unseeable), plus the wry observational humour of his satiric Mah Nakorn (Citizen Dog).
With false scares and other cinematic sleight-of-hand tricks, Wisit keeps the audience guessing as he suspensefully strings along the story of Mon and her ghost friend Runpee, whose name means simply "senior".
Mon's abilities to sense ghosts has made her an outcast among her school's other girls. Everyone already thought she was a bit weird, but since Runpee came on the scene, she's especially bizarre, since she's given to carrying on conversations with her ghost pal, who almost no one except the audience can see. So it appears she's walking along, talking to herself. There are even street scenes, which I'm not certain were filmed on a closed set, in which passersby naturally react with perplexity to the odd girl who is flailing her arms and talking gibberish to an invisible friend.
At one point, Mon is talking and flailing during her French lessons, and the stern nun teacher punishes Mon by having her wear a sign and stand with her arms outstretched. Even then, she continues her conversation with Runpee.
The laws of physics are different in the ghost world, Runpee explains as they sleuth around the school property, searching for clues to the 50-year-old murder. For example, ghosts can't walk walls if the walls were built after they died. Industrial-like animated diagrams help illustrate. And, there are exceptions, of course. It's not quite Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, but then thank goodness it isn't.
Aside from the main story of the old murder case, there are other issues to pad out the tale and give weight to the characters. There's an annoyingly cheerful young doctor friend of Mon's (DJ We Raweeroj) whom Mon strings along long enough for him to be helpful to the murder case. Another subplot has Mon developing a selfie-fueled friendship with the school's other outcast, Ant (Kaykai Nutticha Namwong), who is shunned by the popular clique because she's been seen getting close to the male chemistry teacher – way too close in fact. He's a jerk, and gets what's coming to him in a vividly memorable scene that has him haunted by millions of eyeball-like CGI spirits.
Ant's story has parallels to the 50-year-old murder, which is intertwined with the school's history and the mysterious figure of "Baby Daeng", the heir to the princess' estate and the cause of conflict. What happened to Baby Daeng? That's the question that keeps coming back to haunt Mon and Runpee as they circle ever closer to a truth that was right in front of their eyes to begin with.
Figures from the past include an elderly doctor, portrayed by stage and screen veteran Sa-ad Piampongsan, who is a hoot to watch as he chews up scenes that grow meatier and meatier with each appearance.
Onward and upward, the action reaches its heights with Mon atop a bell tower, rescued by her personal Jesus Runpee.
It's a mix of actors from a bygone era of classic Thai genre films and fresh-faced youngsters making their debuts, which is something of a trademark for Wisit, who has a knack for plucking up fresh talents and dropping them in as the leads of his films.
Here, singer-actress Ploychompoo is an endearing heroine, rebellious and strong, placing her in good company with another superpowered young actress, Punpun Sutatta Udomsilp from another Thai movie this year, May Nai (May Who?), about a high-school girl who releases a strong electrical charge if her heart gets racing. Maybe one day Mon and May could team up to solve more crimes.