Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Review: Take Me Home

  • Directed by Kongkiat Komesiri
  • Starring Mario Maurer, Wannarote Sonthichai, Noppachai Jayanama
  • Released in Thai cinemas on April 13, 2016; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5 

The weird culture of Thai high society – entitled families whose perfect, luxurious existences are insulated from the ordinary working-class world – have long been the subject of the often off-putting and alienating films of ML Bhandevanov Devakula, the blue-blooded director of stage and screen who is better known as "Mom Noi" and is revered in the industry as the acting coach to most of Thailand's movie and TV stars.

With the new horror Take Me Home (สุขสันต์วันกลับบ้าน, Suksan Wan Klab Baan), Mom Noi's painterly, stagebound hi-so sensibilities are merged with indie grit, and the combination is surprisingly potent and enjoyable.

Mom Noi, who directed a string of lavish romantic dramas in the 1980s and '90s and then had a resurgence in recent years with a series of new adaptations of classic Thai novels that had been made into movies long before, is billed as a consultant on Take Me Home.

The thriller notably stars big-name talent Mario Maurer, who came under Mom Noi's tutelage in the dramatist's unique Thai take on Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, U mong pa meung, which was titled for the U.S. market as At the Gate of the Ghost. Mario then took the lead in Mom Noi's insanely epic two-part reworking of the erotic tale Jan Dara, which was all about bizarrely flawed rich folks and their oh-so-problematic lives.

But the driving force of Take Me Home is Kongkiat Komesiri, a writer-director who has helmed three very fine films, all slick-but-scuzzy crime dramas, 2007's Muay Thai Chaiya, 2009's Slice and 2012's Antapal.

Take Me Home is being touted as Kongkiat's "first horror", though his previous films, Slice especially, had horror elements, and he did take part in the "Ronin Team" collective effort behind the Five Star Production torture thrillers Art of the Devil.

Kongkiat came up with the story for Take Me Home and got help on the screenplay from Piyaluck Mahatanasab and the industry's go-to script surgeon Kongdej Jaturanrasmee. Piyaluck is also the producer, whose indie shingle North Star was among the imprints on Kongdej's critically hailed post-coup drama Snap, last year.

Mario portrays a young man who was in a coma around 10 years ago. He woke up with no recollection of his life except his name was Tan. While working as an orderly in the hospital's morgue, he's spookily led to clues about his family, and decides to investigate further. "Once you leave here, you can never return," is the administrator's prophetic warning he should've heeded.

The family estate is a modern architectural masterpiece. And he is warmly greeted at the gate by the family's doting maid Waew (Napapha Sukrit), who immediately recognizes him. Singing a soothingly unsettling Thai song, she gives him a lift in a golf cart to the main building, a stunning structure ripped from the pages of Architectural Digest. Inside, the welcome is as cold as all the tile, glass and stainless steel. A pair of horseplaying small children take no heed of Tan. The man of the house is the upright, sweater-clad snob Cheewin (Noppachai Jayanama), who has no clue who Tan is. Cheewin's wife, it turns out, is Tan's beautiful twin sister (Wannarote Sonthichai) Tubtim, whom Tan seems to barely recognize. And Cheewin states flatly that Tubtim never mentioned she had a twin brother.

So right away, nothing is adding up. And therein lies the suspense, as the reality of the house, Tan's family and their tortured history are gradually revealed. Seems Tan's and Tubtim's father was a respected architect who committed suicide. He had bought the house for a song years before, but the former owner felt betrayed. So there's much bad karma in the structure, along with all the right angles and spiral staircases. Tan is trapped, and has to live what appears to be a hellish, Groundhog Day-type existence, repeating fruitless escape attempts over and over.

Mario, the boyish Thai-Chinese-German actor whose career was launched with 2007's Love of Siam, gives what is perhaps his strongest (and sweatiest) performance yet. Noppachai is sure and steady in a supporting role. TV star Wannarote chews up her scenes as the increasingly unstable Tubtim.

With Mom's Noi's hidebound art-museum tendencies kept at arm's length, Kongkiat heads a production that vividly transforms the gleaming white modern home into a moldering, creaking haunted house. It's a welcome, worthy effort from one of the industry's more distinctive writer-directors.

In the meantime, Kongkiat has another feature in the works, the big-budget historical action epic Khun Phan, which stars Ananda Everingham as a policeman in the 1930s who is in pursuit of a roving bandit played by Krissada Sukosol Terrence. The picture, long since in the can, has been on Sahamongkol's release calendar for the past couple of years or so but has remained mysteriously in the vaults. Reportedly, Kongkiat is in the midst of reworking Khun Phan and updating the visual effects.

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