Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Review: Out of the Darkness

  • Directed by Chatrichalerm Yukol
  • Starring Sorapong Chatree
  • Released in Thailand in 1971; all-region PAL DVD available from Mangpong with English subtitles.

Thailand's first science fiction film, and also the first film by MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, comes from a time when a single film had to be many films at once - action, comedy, romance, drama, even musical.

The story begins in Bangkok, where a scientist and his assistant (played by Sorapong Chatree, in the first of a string of films for Chatrichalerm) notice some meteors falling in southern Thailand.

They pack up their car and head for the Andaman coast, starting their search at a mining camp, where they promptly get into a shootout. After vanquishing the gunmen, who were apparently attacking for no other reason than to have a shoot-out scene in the film, they meet the mine's owner and are taking to his swinging pad of a house, where a bunch of groovy kids are hanging out partying.

The kids, all good looking and fashionably dressed in the latest loud styles of 1970s upper-class Thailand, are eager to help the scientist. One woman, named Chonlada, agrees to accompany the dashing Sek to a cliff, where Sek woos the lovely Chonlada.

Meanwhile, some of the other kids muse about Sek and Chonlada going off together and kid another guy, who thinks he's Chonlada's boyfriend. They break out into song. It's like a Bollywood movie, without the wet saris. But at 140 minutes, it's nearly as long.

Finally, off at a nearby island of sea gypsies, an alien emerges from the water and attacks the tribe's chieftan. Possessed by the alien, he goes back to his village and shoots green death rays from his eyes and wipes everyone out, except for his daughter, the bikinied, lei-wearing sea gypsy princess who looks like she belongs in the cast of South Pacific.

Eventually, the alien makes its way to the mainland and possesses more people. Sek and the others must find a way to kill it.

By Chatrichalerm's own admission, the film is "terrible." But I'd still probably watch it again, just for sheer camp value.

The special effects are nothing special. The alien is a blob-shaped thing with tentacles that remind me of the squid in Plan 9 from Outer Space (actually Tim Burton's Ed Wood, in the scene where Bela Lugosi is depicted having to move the giant squid's tentacles himself because there is no motor for the prop).

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Review: The Sperm

  • Directed by Taweewat Wantha
  • Starring Putthipong Sriwat, Pimpaporn Leenutapong, Somlek Sakdikul, Dollaros Dachapratumwan
  • Released in Thai cinemas on March 22, 2007
Thai science-fiction cinema hasn't actually come all that far since its beginnings with 1971's Out of the Darkness.

The latest offering, The Sperm, directed by Taweewat Wantha, uses the same green ray-beam effects emanating from the eyes as MC Chatrichalerm Yukol had when he made his debut feature film, which was about an alien invasion along the Andaman coast of southern Thailand.

But Chatrichalerm probably would agree that Taweewat's film, while not necessarily having significantly better special effects, executes a more original story with The Sperm, or Asujak, than Out of the Darkness, a film that by Than Mui's own admission was "terrible". In The Sperm, an alien spaceship is a giant hotpot bowl with a wooden door. A ramshackle No. 133 Bangkok city bus becomes a mobile laboratory. There are cartoonish 3-D animated sperm and shakily rendered faces of the "lookalike gang", but it all adds up to fun.

Putthipong "Leo Putt" Sriwat stars as a struggling young rock musician named Sutin. In his sleep, he always dreams of situations that almost put him in sexual contact with Thailand's sweetheart model-actress, La-mai (Pimpaporn Leenutapong). Just as he's ready to consummate the relationship, he wakes up.

But Sutin makes contact with La-mai for real when he's shopping and reaches for the winning bottle of Addict deodorant, which earns his band a place in the One Tambon, One Band (OTOB) competition. The prize is presented by none other than La-mai. Not wanting to blow a chance to actually have sex with the girl of his dreams, he crudely propositions her. But he's actually awake, and this is actually happening, and it's caught on live television.

Embarrassed, he drowns his sorrows in whisky and soda. He suffers further indignities when his bandmates dose him with a generic Viagra drug from Chatuchak market and dump him in a short-time motel. Sutin comes to to find himself being serviced by an elderly prostitute – a rude awakening because he was again dreaming of La-mai. He runs from the room, but can't shake the protuberance from his trousers. In an alley, he spots a poster of La-mai and relieves his burden in front of it, not caring that his issuance has gone into the Bangkok sewer system.

Overnight, Sutin's seed spreads. Thousands of women are pregnant, and give birth the next day. All the babies grow abnormally fast, and they all seem obsessed with sex. And, they all look like Sutin.

Sutin is soon on the run from the police, but bigger problems come up, and not just his making up with La-mai.

The Sperm is a sharp satire on Thai pop culture and society – of fame and celebrity, brand-name products and the sexualisation of everything, even as being sexy is frowned upon. It's the kind of movie that deserves to be seen, for what it's trying to say, and for the comic performances by Leo Putt and Pimpaporn (who last starred in 2003's frankly sexual Sayew, another ignored gem).

There's the always-reliable Somlek Sakdikul as a scientist looking for a solution to the problem of Sutin's seed. And where Pimpaporn is the typical demure good Thai girl, the scientist has a daughter who embodies all the badness – of tight, short schoolgirl outfits, a too-short security guard uniform and strings from a G-string bikini protruding from the tops of her low-riding Daisy Duke cut-off denim shorts. Wow! Dressed in a form-fitting catsuit, she leads a band of inflatable sex doll ninja warriors who save the day. She's not bad, she's just dressed that way.

The Sperm is also similar to Out of the Darkness in that it has some musical interludes, though the style of music is quite a bit different. Out of the Darkness had a couple of song-and-dance numbers that seemed just dropped in - all the sudden, people are singing and dancing, Bollywood style. In The Sperm, the music is part of the story, part of which takes place at a battle of the bands. Thai rapper Nuttawut Srimhog portrays Sutin's best friend and steps up as the lead singer of the band. He's part of Joey Boy's Gancore Club hiphop collective and is a member of the duo BZ and Fukking Hero, though I don't know whether he's BZ or Fukking Hero. The duo was seen in Buppha Rahtree. Chakrapong Siririn, better known as Song Paradox, bassist of the band Paradox, portays the band's vulgar lead guitarist. Song was also in The Possible late last year. Thai hair metal legend Kitti "Guitar" Gunn makes a cameo, as does Narongrit Tosa-nga, better known as "Khun In" from The Overture. He portrays Guitar God.

Despite all it has going for it, The Sperm is yet another entry in a crowded release calendar for Thai films, and is struggling against heavy Hollywood hitters like 300 and Ghost Rider. It doesn't really fit the mould of Thai comedies, horror flicks and horror-comedies, even though it has all the required elements (yes, there's even a transvestite male character), and will probably barely register in the Thai pop culture consciousness.

The name itself is a turnoff. I suggested it to a few people, and the immediate response was disgusted looks, as if I was suggesting they see an X-rated film.

The Sperm, like Taweewat's previous film, SARS Wars, an over-the-top sci-fi satire that killed Film Bangkok with its extravagance, will likely be appreciated more overseas by cult-film crowds. Hopefully, The Sperm will seek out an audience that deserves it.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)