Thursday, October 11, 2007

Review: Body #19 (Body sop 19)

  • Directed by Paween Purijitpanya
  • Starring Arak Amornsupasiri, Ornjira Lamwilai, Kritteera Inpornwijit, Patharawarin Timkul
  • Wide release in Thailand cinemas on October 4, 2007
On the surface, GTH studio’s new horror film, Body, looks beautiful. There are some convincing computer-graphic effects and the performances are excellent. The story, which has some parallels to a recent Thai true-crime case, is deliberately and evenly paced and maintains its suspense throughout.

But peel back the layers and things don’t quite make sense, especially when, in GTH’s formulaic style, everything is neatly tied up at the end, so that no matter what convulsions your brain went through during this psychological thriller, there’s not much to think about.

Body is the debut feature by Paween Purijitpanya and is written by Chukiat Sakweerakul and Ekasit Thairat, the director-screenwriter and writer of last year’s visceral puzzler 13 Beloved.

The story finds an engineering student, Chon, sympathetically portrayed by the wide-eyed Arak Amornsupasiri of the Thai band Slur, having bad dreams that are steadily becoming more real. They involve a corpsified woman with her guts hanging out and, following the conventions of Asian horror, long, greasy black hair. There’s also a foetus that turns up in his soup. Prawns that he’s cleaning for dinner start wriggling around and bleeding. The special effects behind these are smoothly rendered and complement the story – a notable achievement for a Thai film.

Chon’s medical student sister Aye (Ornija Lamwilai) finally gets Chon to go for treatment. At the hospital, he sees a young doctor who thinks the boy is on drugs, and he refers Chon to a Dr Usa (Kritteera Inporwijit) for psychiatric care. Somehow, Usa and Chon, and Usa’s increasingly distant husband, Dr Sethee, share a connection, and Chon’s horrifying visions become more realistic. He sees somebody cutting up a body in the storage room of his house, and an evil, misshapen black cat keeps turning up.

Usa’s probing leads her to another female doctor, Dr Dararai, portrayed with gusto by Patharawarin Timkul. Patharawarin is a classic bad-girl actress with such a powerful presence, the energy she creates is palpable. When one of her students uses her cellphone during class, Dararai casts an angry gaze that leaves the schoolgirl a bruised, battered wreck, urinating on herself, and it’s a wonder Dararai’s powers didn’t reach beyond the screen to affect the audience as well.

Others who get too close to the truth meet grisly ends. In a creepy room where jars of animal specimens are stored – a place that screams “don’t go in there!” – a teaching assistant is strangled by gleaming barbed wire so realistic it threatens to cut anyone sitting too close.

The mystery all leads back to a corpse that is behind door No 19 in the hospital morgue, hence the Thai title for the film, Sop 19, literally, “corpse No 19”.

There are obvious parallels between the movie and the recent case of Wisut Boonkasemsanti, a physician who was given the death sentence after he was convicted in the dismemberment death of his estranged wife.

The story has a refreshing slow pace, and despite following many conventions of horror films, it feels fresh. But there are leaps in logic – flouting of basic medical ethics that must have been overlooked because it would have made the story too difficult to abide by the GTH rulebook of keeping things blissfully simple and never challenging the audience.

Lastly, Body gives rise again to the question of why this film could be shown in Thailand in the first place. Like Sahamongkol’s Sick Nurses earlier this year, here are medical professionals acting unprofessionally, with deadly consequences. Yet Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century was censored for showing doctors who weren’t murdering anyone – just having a wee nip of some whisky or sharing a passionate kiss.

Now there’s a case that someone should make a movie about, but the truth of the answers would be too shockingly real for general audiences to believe, probably too complex to understand, and too ugly for a studio marketing team to try and sell.

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(Cross-published at The Nation weblog)

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