Friday, October 15, 2004

Review: Sai Lor Fah (Pattaya Maniac)

  • Directed by Yuthlert Sippapak.
  • Starring Nong Chachacha, Somchai Khemklad
  • Released in Thailand cinemas in October 2004
  • Rating: 5/5

At times grimly violent, other times sweetly spiritual and yet other times rauciously funny, Sai Lor Fah, the latest film by Yuthlert Sippapak is hard to sum up in a nutshell. But I'll try anyway.

Tun, a big, soft-hearted lug and Tao, a gambler, are friends. They enjoy hanging out at karaoke bars, but they frequently have to change venues because of Tao's habit of belting out the heavy metal song "Sai Lor Fah" ("Lightning Rod") whenever it comes on the box. And he's not a very good singer.

Oh, I don't know why the English title is Pattaya Maniac, except for the fact that the film is set in the beachside resort town. I think Lightning Rod would be a better title. Pattaya Maniac sounds over-the-top.

Well, Tao finally wins in gambling. He pays Tun back the 100,000 baht (about $2,500) he owed him and treats him to a night of karaoke at one of the swankier places in Pattaya. There, Tun meets the girl of his dreams and shares a duet with her. Then the chick disappears. It turns out she is the paid girlfriend of a mafia chieftan and Tao paid her for a one-time deal with his friend.

Tun wants desperately to find her again. He gives the 100,000 baht to the ladyboy pimp who used to be the girl's boss.

And from there the fun just keeps rolling, with the action involving a kidnapping, a 3 million baht (about $60,000) ransom and a shadowy assasin. The characters include some mafia chieftans who are mostly interested in collecting rare Buddha amulets. Tun's job backs up this angle: He's an amulet expert, a legacy handed down by his late father.

As with Yuthlert's debut action comedy Killer Tattoo and the comedy horror Buppha Ratree, the film is filled with all kinds of crazy characters.

Tun himself is played by a guy named Nong Cha Cha Cha, though he's got a real name, Choosak Iamsuk. He's a fixture on one of those annoyingly loud Thai comedy-variety-game shows. He proves to be a pretty good dramatic actor, here, and a good singer as well.

The supporting cast included Somlek Sakdikul ("Daddy" from Monrok Transistor) and Black Goldenhair (the boss on the cane-cutting farm, also in Monrak), plus funnyman Mom Jok Mok (Ong Bak), and many others. Leila Boonyasak (from Buppha Rahtree and Last Life in the Universe) makes a brief appearance in schoolgirl garb.

A funny reference was made to Buppha Rahtree when Tao, whose day job was selling porn VCDs on the street, tried to sell a funny looking security guard a film called Flower of the Night. "Orgasm guaranteed," he told the guy. Another reference was made to The Grudge by Mom Jok Mok's character, chiding a girl for letting her hair cover her face. "Didn't you see The Grudge? That was scary."

Another scene involved Tao talking to an old friend, a man who was hiding out because of his gambling debts. He was an elderly, stuttering man, and I'm sure a famous Thai comedian. They are sitting at a carousel bar. The man's stutter gives him away. Not sure what that scene was all about, but it was pretty cool nonetheless.

I was most taken by the karaoke angle of the film and it helped increase my appreciation of contemporary Thai rock and pop music.

The song, "Sai Lor Fah", is a top hit by a duo, Asanee-Wasan. There were many other songs as well, by the likes of Big Ass, Blackhead and, I think, Bird-Sek.

The lyrics were all translated in the subtitles, which was very helpful. They are gut-wrenchingly painful. American country music has nothing on the heartfelt sadness of these songs. One was like: "She crushed me like a cigarette, she sucked out all my sweetness. I feel like my head has been hit with a mallet. I am so naive and stupid."

Oh yeah. I feel your pain, buddy.

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(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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