Monday, June 18, 2007

Review: Sick Nurses

  • Directed by Piraphan Laoyont and Thodsapol Siriwiwat
  • Starring Chol Wachananont, Chidjun Rujiphan, Ase Hui Min Wang, Doloros Dechapratumwon, Kanya Rattanapetch and Ampairat and Ampaiwan Techapoowapat
  • Released in Thailand cinemas on June 14, 2007
  • Rating: 2/5
Six sexy, naughty, bitchy nurses, and one dumb doctor get what’s coming to them, one by one, in Sahamongkol Film International's latest ghost thriller, Sick Nurses.

Directed by Piraphan Laoyont and Thodsapol Siriwiwat, the writer-director team behind Suicide Me, Sick Nurses is a bloody, confusing, misogynistic mess from start to finish.

There’s not a single character that is worth rooting for – every one of them you want to see meet their end in the most violent, horrible way. Credit is due the directors for making this happen, most of the time. There is humor, fitfully, although it seems out of place, but in this type of film, you have to take what you can get.

Set in a run-down, isolated hospital, it seems young Dr. Tar (Wid Charu-jinda) and seven nurses have been running a scheme to sell dead bodies on the black market. But one nurse (Chol Wachananont) thinks the whole thing stinks, and is ready to blow the whistle. So the other six nurses gang up on her, slap her down on an operating table, kill her and then wrap her in a black, plastic garbage bag. They then dump her in the trunk of the doctor’s car, where the corpse will be kept on dry ice until it can be sold.

The storyline jumps around, doing some nonsensical flashbacks and flash forwards. The flashbacks establish the characters – Chol was the doctor’s girlfriend, but so was her coquettish sister (Chidjun Rujiphan). The other girls all have their own sick obsessions. There’s a fitness freak (Ase Hui Min Wang), a bulimic (Doloros Dechapratumwon), a fashion slave (Kanya Rattanapetch) and a pair of phone-camera-snapping twin sister-lesbian lovers (Ampairat and Ampaiwan Techapoowapat). And it turns out that Dr Tar had been having flings with all the women, though he also has another big secret to hide.

Jump ahead seven days, and the ghost of Chol, draped head-to-toe in black, has returned, and must bond with her lover and take revenge on her death before midnight, or something like that. The deaths of the six are all pretty spectacular, and prey on the suffocating vanity and cuteness of their characters.

Doloros’ demise is the best – she is forced to eat a handful of scalpel blades, then her jaw drops off and her tongue falls out. Her pet cat, on which she has transferred her eating disorder, then eats her tongue. Then, a fetus from a jar flies into her throat, choking her. Not much else in the film tops that scene, except maybe for a giant red cross falling off the front hospital building and spinning across the lawn, where it is supposed to flatten Chidjun.

Kanya has a handbag sewn to her head, so that when her shadow appears behind a screen, the handles of the handbag made her look like a killer Teletubby. That was one of the funny bits.

However, before the opening credits even roll, the big question all this begs is: How did this film get released? The entire premise, based on a bunch of murderous medical professionals, should have got the film shelved by the Board of Censorship, which took a dim view of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century. In that film, some friendly, hard-working doctors take a break to drink some whisky, and a male doctor meets his girlfriend in his office, kisses her passionately, and gets an erection. These are real, everyday depictions. Those scenes weren’t fit to be seen by innocent Thai eyes, the board ruled. However, a doctor and nurse going at it on a morgue table, or a nurse sitting on a toilet with just her panties to block her nether region, or obviously insane doctors and nurses engaged in criminal activities – that’s okay?

Maybe Sahamongkol Film, the producer of Sick Nurses and dozens of other films that depict monks, doctors and teachers in what are likely objectionable situations, holds some influence over the Board of Censorship, while independent, award-winning filmmaker Apichatpong does not? There is a double standard, plain and simple.

The point is, though, there shouldn’t be any censorship of films in the first place – even if, in the case of Sick Nurses – they aren’t really fit to be seen by general audiences. But it should be the audience's right to choose, not some fascist policeman or narrow-minded culture ministry nanny wielding scissors and petroleum jelly.

(Originally published in The Nation, Life section, June 18, 2007)

Friday, June 8, 2007

Review: Ploy

  • Written and directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang
  • Starring Lalita Panyopas, Pornwut Sarasin, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Porntip Papanai, Ananda Everingham, Thaksakorn Pradabpongsa
  • Premiered May 21 during the Director's Fortnight at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival; censored version opened in Thailand cinemas on June 7, 2007
  • Rating: 5/5
A languorous daydream, dragged out by jetlag and a before-noon vodka binge, Ploy is sure to leave you out of sorts, but happy, or at least bemused.

The sixth feature film by Thai auteur Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Ploy is the story of a middle-aged Thai-American couple who return to Thailand for the first time in years to attend the funeral of a relative.

Arriving at Suvarnabhumi Airport at 5 o'clock in the morning after 20 hours of flying, the bleary-eyed couple checks into a hotel. It’s one of those trendy boutiques, with a lot of bare concrete and nicely appointed rooms, but hallways that are out of a horror film.

Dang, played by the incomparable Lalita “Mew” Panyopas, just wants to sleep. But her husband, Wit, is restless, and heads down to the hotel bar to buy a pack of smokes. In the bar, Wit strikes up a conversation with a young, frizzy-haired girl named Ploy. She says she’s waiting for her mother to arrive from Stockholm. Soon, the pair are sharing coffee and cigarettes and listening to Photo Sticker Machine on Ploy’s iPod. Wit then invites Ploy up to his and Dang’s room, so she can get cleaned up and take a load off. But as soon as Dang opens the door and sees young Ploy, it’s obvious that Wit has made a horrible lapse in judgment.

Feelings of rage and jealousy are seething deep inside Dang, and while Ploy uses the toilet, Dang demands that Wit get rid of the girl. But to the girl, Dang is actually quite sweet, and can’t bring herself to confront the urchin.

It’s the kind of character that Mew, with her distinctive appearance – she’s taller than she looks – is made to play. One instant she is a calm sea, and the next a raging storm – you can never tell what she’ll do next. It’s pure excitement to watch her work, and great to see her on the big screen, where she hasn’t been since Pen-ek’s 1999 black comedy, Ruang Talok 69.

Surrounding Mew is a great ensemble. Wit is played by first-time actor Pornwut Sarasin, whose day job is executive vice president at Thai Namthip – the company that sells Coca Cola in Thailand (at the press screening there was free-flowing Coke Zero, which was surely not a coincidence).

Ploy, played by Apinya Sakulcharoensuk, is a gem. Turned 17 on May 27, she’s full of wide-eyed innocence, but carries an air of mystery that’s a bit disconcerting. An Afro mop that's straight out of the Boondocks adds the crowning touch to her character.

As Wit and Dang talk over their eight – no it’s seven – years of marriage, there’s a Greek chorus of sorts in nearby room 609: Ananda Everingham, portraying the silent, weary bartender and leggy Porntip "Cartoon" Papanai, a sex bomb of a maid (she played Dao in Monrak Transistor), are having a play-acting tryst. It’s an erotic counterpoint, which in screenings during the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes two weeks ago, was reportedly quite explicit. It has been re-edited by Pen-ek so innocent Thais – and the Board of Censors – won’t be offended.

The proceedings unfold dreamily, and full of surrealism and surprises. It’s never certain just what is reality and what is a nightmare, sort of like the sleep-deprived state you’re in after a 20-hour long-haul flight.

Ploy is a bit of a return for Pen-ek, who scripted this film himself, after doing the pan-Asian existentialist odes Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves with writer Prabda Yoon, and cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

He’s back in Thailand, working with his old cinematographer, Charnkit Chamniwikaipong, with Lalita again as his lead actress. But everything Pen-ek has done up to now – from Fun Bar Karaoke, 6ixtynin9 and the musical-comedy Monrak Transistor to the weirdness of Last Life and Invisible Waves (which, for the record, I liked), has led to Ploy – it’s a natural progression for him. And surely, whatever comes next, will be just as full of wonder as Ploy.

(Originally published in The Nation Weekend on June 7, 2007, Page 17)