Saturday, January 3, 2009

Review: Deep in the Jungle

  • Directed by Teerawat Rujeenatham
  • Starring Jesadaporn Pholdee, Ploy Jindachote, Jin Sakda Kaewbuadee, Pasin Ruengwut
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 31, 2008
  • Rating: 3/5

Blending ancient and urban myths about the naga, Phranakorn Film has finally succeeded in producing a coherent film with Deep in the Jungle (Patiharn Rak Tang Phan, ปาฏิหาริย์รักต่างพันธุ์).

An action fantasy and romance, it's the story of a Thai special forces sniper who is forced to go rogue in order to protect a mysterious hilltribe woman being sought by a black-ops officer. The woman, named Jin, is actually a member of the ancient race of naga -- snake gods who live in human form but can transform into giant serpents. So no, despite a snake-haired teaser poster, this is not the same story as The Snake King's Child.

Posters and trailers seemed to promise a sexy romance in addition to fantastic action, but viewers expecting to see some hot naked snake sex will be disappointed. There's only a glimpse of skin, shot so close up you can't tell whose skin it is or what part of the body it's on.

The special effects involving the giant snake aren't too bad. They don't really get going until the end though, keeping up an illusion of suspense, and likely preventing the CGI budget from breaking the bank. When the naga is finally glimpsed, the picture is still a bit murky, hazy and greenish, but it's convincing enough.

The real strength of Deep in the Jungle is the rich storytelling, which is a surprise. Usually, the films from Phranakorn make no sense at all and are painful to watch. I actually cried as the credits rolled, not because I was hurting, but out of sheer joy and exhilaration. I'd actually made it through the movie without pulling out what little remains of my hair. I wanted to give congratulatory hugs to everyone involved.

Leading the cast is "Tik" Jesadaporn Pholdee as the enigmatic special forces sniper Nawin. Despite his head of scraggly Nic Cage long hair, Tik comes off very much the hero as he chainsmokes bidi cigarettes and tramps around in the jungle. He's a die-hard soldier who is officially dead and comes near being killed several times.

Ploy Jindachote isn't given much more to say than just her character's name, Jin. But she does a great job at conveying the conflict she feels in her body, which has a giant snake inside, just itching to shed its human skin and get out.

Pasin Ruengwut is Manus, the determined leader of a team of black-suited operatives who are out to capture Jin.

The helpful Sergeant Dang (a long-haired, spectacles-wearing Kowit Wattanakul) explains that the British first found a cave-tomb of the nagas, somewhere deep in the jungles of the Golden Triangle. Then, using the apocryphal photo of U.S. soldiers holding a "naga" as a springboard for the narrative, the cave was rediscovered by the CIA during the Laos Secret War in the 1970s, and American scientists have been trying since then to capture a live naga in an operation codenamed "S21".

The story begins with Nawin on a mission along the Thai-Burmese border, where he is to shoot a druglord leader of a rebel army. But the presence of Manus in the village causes the mission to be scrubbed. Manus is there to take possession of Jin, who had been captured along with other hilltribe people.

But Nawin opens fire anyway, but not before he glimpses the mysterious Jin through his rifle's scope.

Back in Bangkok, the injured Nawin fights his way out of a military hospital and goes looking for Jin. Meanwhile, Jin's brother Jaiy -- played by none other than a beefed-up Sakda Kaewbuadee, a regular from the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul -- has also followed Jin to Bangkok. He's a naga also, and he's leaving bloody trails as he slithers around the underpasses, riverbanks and storm drains looking for Jin.

Eventually the action returns to the jungle, where Nawin is shot by Manus. The force of the shot knocks Nawin off the edge of a high waterfall. Jin leaps after him. The two wash up downstream and are discovered by hilltribe villagers. The pair then enjoy a brief idyllic existence, living among the hunter-gatherers and engaging in interspecies romance.

But Manus and his GPS tracker are never very far away, and in the grand Thai tradition of raberd poa, khaow pao kratom ("bomb the mountain, burn the huts") movies, the black-ops team and allied druglord armies storm the village, killing women and children. It is violent as hell. Finally, there's the big reveal of the big mean monster snakes, which can twist a man's body in half.

Will romance ever work out for Nawin and Jin? Not if her brother has anything to say about it. But Nawin has a way of never dying, even after he's repeatedly shot and stabbed. Possibly he's protected by the large garuda tattoo on his back, or maybe he is a garuda. But we'll never know, unless there's a sequel.

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  1. Nice to see your review for this as it's one I wanted to see.... now I'm even more interested!

    I'm heartened to see you actually liked it, that bodes well for me too...

  2. Great review, very hilarious! I might consider watching it.

  3. Pasin Ruengwut also played the bad guy in Tears of the Black Tiger. He is credited on IMDb for that movie as Arawat Ruangvuth. It's a wacky IMDb transliteration for his family name, but since then he's changed his first name.

  4. Pasin Ruengwut also played in UKKABAT (THE METEOR) (2004, Bhandit Rittakol). :-)


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