Friday, October 31, 2008

Review: Coming Soon (Programme Na Winyarn Arkhad)

  • Written and directed by Sophon Sakdaphisit
  • Starring Worakan Rojanawat, Chantavit Dhanasevi
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 30, 2008
  • Rating: 4/5

Movie pirates all deserve to meet a gruesome end. And, in what appears to be an ironic bit of self-loathing, filmmakers should not escape lightly either.

And no matter what happens, the sheeple in the audience, staring at the screen with their big saucer eyes and their mouths agape, will watch -- anything -- because they've been drawn to the cinemas by eye-catching posters and clever advertising displays.

Full of glorious pessimism, Coming Soon offers a sharp critique on society -- along with a few scares and sometimes gory visuals.

Coming Soon (Programme Na Winyarn Arkhad) is a movie about a movie. Set mostly in a Bangkok multiplex cinema, it's also a reminder of how unsettling those big places can be late at night, especially when you're directed to make your exit out the back staircase into a carpark where there is no escape from the exhaust fumes.

And as I watched the movie, I couldn't help but wonder what the employees of the theater were thinking when they were unfurling the huge banners and setting up the lobby standees for Coming Soon. The posters for the movie are in the movie, as are the realistically creepy standees of a woman hanging in a noose.

The movie within the movie is Vengeful Spirit (Winyarn Arkhad), about an insane old woman who kidnaps children and gouges their eyes out. A little girl's father leads villagers on a rescue mission, but he is too late. The villagers, enraged, lynch the woman.

Offscreen, in the cinema, we learn that the story is based on actual events. At the test screening, the director is sitting in the corridor, pensively chain smoking, wondering if he should re-edit the hanging scene.

The projectionist Shane, meanwhile, has been tasked by his boss Yod to swap out the reels and keep them for later, when they plan to videotape the movie and sell pirated copies of it before its release. Shane, it seems, has a gambling problem, and he needs money. He's not much of a hero. He used to be on drugs, and beat his ex-girlfriend Som (Worakan Rojanawat) -- a theater usher -- and pawned her watch. Somehow though, "Ter" Chantavit Dhanasevi plays a sympathetic character.

During the videotaping, Yod disappears. Shane finds the camera, and what he sees in the captured footage is darned peculiar and downright chilling. He keeps seeing things in the shadows. He tells Som he thinks the old woman from the movie might be a real ghost and she's haunting him. From there, Som forgives her abusive ex-boyfriend and pitches in with her computer skills to Google up more about the old woman and the hanging.

There aren't really many big scares -- they are mostly anti-climactic jumps of the don't-open-that-closet nature. The scraping of the high strings in the orchestral score work overtime, and it gets to be stomach churning.

But I loved Coming Soon for how it transcends the worlds of the cinema and the screen, both in the movie and in our world. I'm not sure it will work the same when it comes out on DVD. There's just something pretty special and weird about sitting in a big multiplex cinema, munching on popcorn, and watching people on the big screen do the same.

Coming Soon even goes behind the scenes of the movie within the movie, in a remarkable bit of self-reflection by first-time director Sophon Sakdaphisit. Could it be the co-writer of the GMM Tai Hub horror hits Shutter and Alone is having misgivings about his line of work? Hope not. Because audiences are depending on him.

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