Saturday, September 27, 2008

In the shadow of In the Shadow of the Naga

I don't want too much more time to go by before catching up with Shadow of the Naga, the "monks with guns" action drama by Phawat Panangkasiri that made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Because of the subject matter -- three thieves (Somchai Khemklad, Ray MacDonald and Pitisak Yaowananon) hide their loot on the grounds of a Buddhist monastery, and then have to become ordained as monks in order to retrieve their booty -- the film will probably never be released in Thailand. It's sat on the shelf for a year, with Sahamongkol Film International hesitant to release it, fearing a backlash.

This is despite that comedies by Thai studios frequently depict Buddhist monks as buffoons. And the upcoming Holy Man 2 (Luang Phi Teng: Roon Ha Rumruay) has a monk doing a hip-hopper's patter -- it's rapper Joey Boy in the starring role after all. But at least he's not playing guitar.

I was hopeful some good buzz might be generated about In the Shadow of the Naga (Nak Prok) at Toronto. And there was some, from the National Post, with it being included among Chris Knight's recommendations:

Sometimes a film's beginning and end can be even more deliberate. In the Shadow of Naga is a Thai film about three thieves who bury their loot on the grounds of a Buddhist monastery and then must be ordained in order to dig it up. (I watched it solely so I could use the phrase "felonious monk" in this column; it was worth it.) Director Phawat Panangkasiri opens and closes his story with an onscreen statement about Buddhist principles; how, even though the film's characters may disregard them, they are nonetheless true.

Knight also got to use his new favorite phrase in the National Post's wrap-up of the fest:


In the Shadow of Naga, a Buddhist-themed film about bad guys who become ordained (felonious monks), which the press and industry audience was told would start 10 minutes late; then another 10 minutes; then another; and then "any minute," which is when it finally began.

Then Kaiju Shakedown's Grady Hendrix weighed in with his final TIFF '08 update:

[This] low-key Thai flick about criminals becoming Buddhist monks [h]as all the strengths and weaknesses of Thailand's mainstream commercial cinema, which means we'll all probably never hear from it again.

There's also a review from They Shoot Actors Don't They. Here's an excerpt:

Parts of the plot of In the Shadow of the Naga are a bit difficult to piece together, but the moral lessons are pretty clear. Shady dealings and shocking secrets are hinted at, but so obscurely that by the dramatic climax it's a bit difficult to know who the good guys and bad guys really are. Interesting, but maybe not actually superior to Blue Streak.

And finally a Variety review by Robert Koehler, was issued yesterday. Here's an excerpt:

In the Shadow of the Naga appears destined to be known as that Thai "monks-with-guns" movie, just as it's sure to enrage stewards of religious tradition in Thailand. Fashioned closer in spirit and substance to a rough B-genre item than an art pic or festival title for export, helmer Phawat Panangkasiri's actioner pits a trio of thieves against the precepts of a Buddhist temple where their stolen stash is hidden, with sometimes risible results. Cautionary opening title note that characters sometimes veer from Buddhist principles won't be enough to avert controversy, which in turn will stoke local demand.

I agree that the demand will be there -- I demand to see it. But even under the forthcoming ratings system, will there be a place for monks with guns -- even if the director has gone to great lenghths to explain the intentions of his work?

Monks running around screaming, diving into human waste or being covered in mud is okay though.

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