Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Review: Buppha Rahtree

  • Directed by Yuthlert Sippapak.
  • Starring Chermarn "Laila" Boonyasak, Kris Srepoomseth.
  • Released in Thailand cinemas in 2003, released on English-subtitled DVD
Apartment 69 is haunted and nobody can get the ghost out.

The setup takes a while. A rich college boy sets out to bed the bookish, poor Buppha (Laila Boonyasak, seen all-too-briefly in Last Life in the Universe). With his hip, slick and cool ways (and a BMW convertible) that is easy for him. Turns out his intentions were less than honorable and Buppha is left alone in her room, where she dies.

Actually, she is lives in apartment 609, but the zero has fallen off the door.

Other reviews delve into her sadness, but I went into this not knowing what was up, so I'll leave it at that.

Eventually the bitchy landlady comes around, smells something bad and enters the apartment to investigate. She calls the police. Among the authorities on the scene is a spikey-haired medical examiner who is seen throwing up in the sink. Later she's getting sick again and has to lean over the balcony. This is an obvious, comic reference to Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunan, Thailand's famous forensic pathologist (though Yuthlert has been said to have outright denied this).

There's also a skinny cop with a huge adam's apple who reminded me of Barney Fife.

The door shuts on its own and the cops are locked out of the apartment. A voice from within shouts out for people to go away.

So the landlady calls in the first of several ghostbusters or exorcists to get rid of the angry spirit.

The first is a strange shaman who seems in a trance. He communicates to his helpers through a series of yips and barks. He is introduced at his temple, removing the meanness from a guy's girlfriend. He kung-fu kicks her, then spits rice wine on her. He places a bag over her head and says an incantation. A bloody, fetal creature is removed from the bag, which he then spits at with flaming rice wine. At apartment 69, he tries his monkey dance out on the ghost, but is chased from the room covered in blood. His helpers jump from the balcony and end up with broken bones.

Next is another Chinese-Thai shaman (Somlek Sakdikul), who fares even worse. He ends up with a knife in his back for his troubles.

A couple of bumbling Catholic priests try next. They end up with pea-soup vomit on their frocks. The spirit even speaks in tongues like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, but the director wisely avoids going for the trademark head spin. That would've been too much.

As a last resort, a Cambodian shaman is called in. He nearly succeeds, but the red paper keeping the spirit at bay blows off while the body is being hauled down the road in the back of a pickup. Next thing the Khmer shaman knows, the truck is being driven by a crazy ghost. Not a good place to be.

Eventually a hacksaw comes into play, but further details are best left for viewing.

This film is derivative of other Asian horror, especially Takeshi Miike's Audition. Damn, I know there's a body in that bag, yet when it sits up, I jump out of my skin!

What I really liked about this film, and I guess it is a trademark of director Yuthlert Sippapak (Killer Tattoo), is that it makes extensive use of Thai television comedians, yet tones down their over-the-top slapstick with the arthouse sensibilities of a director like Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. A few players from Pen-ek's stock company are seen here. In addition to Leila, there's Ampon Rattanawong as the monkey shaman. He's the large-foreheaded guy who had a prominent role as Pan's buddy in Monrak Transistor and had a small role in Last Life.

Somlek Sakdikul portrays the second Chinese shaman. He had high profile role last year in The Overture. He also played "Daddy" in Monrak Transistor and was a cursing, scene-stealing scientist in Mekhong Full Moon Party.

The comedians featured were Somjai "Der Dok Sadao" Sukjai and the Down Syndrome-afflicted personality Sayan Meungjarern. Somjai was in the news recently for his plans to make a movie that made fun of the Thai prime minister. The star of that project was to be Sayan, who has a true gift for comedy. Some folks might moan about him being exploited, but I don't think that's the case.

Other cast members include a couple of plus-sized transvestites who runs a beauty parlor. There's also some Thai rap singers. Their music is featured in the film, though I couldn't really hear where. There's a soundtrack album available and in some respects it's better than the film itself.

The DVD edition of this film is pretty attractive, with some nice comic-book like art. There's a commentary track as well. Of course it's all in Thai. There's also a very cool soundtrack album, featuring some Thai rappers. I'm digging it.

On the film, I was at a disadvantage because there are no English subtitles. This is being done more and more with DVD releases of Thai films. I guess it's a form of region control so the film companies can market the films to festivals without having to compete with the gray market of DVDs being sold overseas.

Update: Buppha Ratree is starting to be featured at film festivals under the title Rahtree: Flower of the Night. It also has been picked up for DVD release in the UK by Momentum.

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