Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Zee Oui DVD with English subs

It's been out for awhile, but seeing it noted at Twitch prompted me to move this up to the top of the pile.

Worth checking out daily for all kinds of news on Thai, Asian and generally cool films, Twitch referred me to an Asian film blog called A Better Tomorrow, which reviews Zee Oui, a thriller about a Chinese immigrant in Thailand in the 1940s who became a cannibalistic serial killer who preyed on children. About the only thing that makes the DVD worth watching, it appears, is that it is a Thai movie and it has English subtitles.

Penniless farmer Li Hui (Duan Long, the lead in the excellent Chinese film Drifters) emigrates from China to Thailand in 1948. His abuse and humiliation by his would-be countrymen begins from the moment his name is misunderstood by immigration officials to be Zee Oui -- which he vigorously protests.

Lacking the funds for the necessary entry fee, he is locked up until his Uncle Dong finally shows up, days later. Dong gets him a job with a butcher and promptly disappears.

Li Hui's first task is to kill chickens by slitting their necks. This proves to be ill-fated employment because the throat slitting brings back fatal, unpleasant memories.

It doesn't help that the butcher's wife restricts his diet to white rice, while the family enjoys a full repast of meats and vegetables, nor that the two bratty children are only too happy to ridicule him. When Li Hui can't take it anymore, he steals money from the family and heads off to another part of the country.

The bodies of dead children soon start appearing, and Dara, a hot young reporter (Premsinee Rattanasopar, the love interest in Bangkok Dangerous) has personal reasons for pursuing the story, despite the cautions of her editor, Santi (Chatchai Plengpanich).

Dara uncovers Li Hui at his new location, wracked with coughing fits from what the English subtitles call "asthma" (actually, tuberculosis). Eventually, the tortured histories of both Li Hui and Dara are revealed, but not before more children are ripped open so that their hearts and kidneys may be used as part of an (ahem) alternative heath therapy.

Though the plot description may sound like a diabolical tale of horror, the filmmakers had something else in mind. Li Hui doesn't make wisecracks or laugh maniacally as he kills -- he coughs.

And that's part of the overplayed melodrama that ultimately sank the picture for me. I have no fear of melodrama, but it needs to be fine tuned in order to be effective in anything beyond a soap opera.

After a suitably creepy prologue, filled with foreboding and bloody guts, the plot begins, and so does Li Hui's mistreatment by others. But we never see Li Hui as anything but a future child killer.

He's a victim himself, as demonstrated over and over again in scenes that are cruel to watch and punctuated by bombastic minor-key music that booms like organ music in old radio dramas (dum dum DUM!!).

{Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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