Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Review: Powder Road

  • Directed by Chatrichalerm Yukol
  • Starring Chatchai Plengpanich, Masatochi Nagase, Sinjai Hongthai
  • Available on DVD from Mangpong in Thailand. Language is Thai with some broken English and Japanese, however only the Thai dialogue is English-subtitled.

Made with the Japanese market in mind, this film is historic in that it's the first Thai film that shows bare breasts. Never mind that they are the fake tits of a transgendered male who has heroin packed into his plastic jugs. But that's how Tan Mui got around it.

Though there's actually some female breasts earlier in the film, at a Patpong go-go bar.

"You see they're in Patpong and the woman will put in a dart [into her vagina], and shoot a dart at a balloon. What you can do is integrate it into the fabric of the film, into the structure of the film, and it is impossible to take it out," Chatrichalerm explained to Thomas Richardson for Richardson's now-defunct Thai Film Index website at Cornell. "You have to see the nipple. And when you see the nipple, next year you have to fight to get the pubic hair. If you see the nipple you can see the whole tit, front on. So now you have to fight to get the pubic hair. Now, what is the definition of pubic hair? I have one of my actors who has hair from his chest down to his knees. You have to tell the censors, 'Okay, you draw the line, where is the pubic hair? Okay, I will obey it'."

Powder Road deals with the drug trade, and starts out with a Japanese man, Tokio (Nagase) trekking into Burma for some reason or another. Throughout the whole film I can't figure out what exactly his role is. Is he a cop? A secret agent? A rival yakuza enforcer? A hired assassin?

Anyway, he's a wirey little fella (not at all the imposing presence of a, say, Toshiro Mifune, a Wakayama Tomasaburo or a Sonny Chiba), and dodges bullets and grenades well as he crosses back into Thailand through the jungle and runs into some para-military bandits who try to kill him.

Tokio is tracking a shipment of heroin, which frozen into big ice blocks and is moved from the Golden Triangle region on boats down the Mekong.

He hits Bangkok, and eventually Pattaya, where he hides out, waiting, I guess, for instructions from his mysterious female handler.

He runs into a bargirl (Sinjai) who professes her hatred for the Japanese. One night, he saves her from some guys trying to rape her, taking a quite a beating in the process.

So there's one Japanese (or, sorry, Jap) that's okay in her book. They hook up, and she takes him to her home village, where she shows Tokio why she hate the Japanese -- because they built a big chemical plant that is poisoning the neighborhood, killed off the fish stocks and made her sister a brain-dead cripple. So besides the dangers of the drug trade, there's another message in this Chatrichalerm film -- of wealthier nations preying on smaller ones so they can operate dangerous industries.

Chatchai is a Thai cop looking to get to the bottom of the yakuza's involvement in the drug trade. His path crosses with the mayor of Pattaya, who also runs a transvestite cabaret.

There's some decent action in this, especially toward the end when there's a gunfight at a seedy hospital where the "girls" are having their breasts done. Here's where there's a cool reveal involving the yakuza's chief henchman, a blade-wielding sort who's got a secret identity.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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