Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Review: Luang Pee Gap Pee Ka-Noon (Sathu)

  • Directed by Dulyasit Niyomgul
  • Starring Tossapol Siriwiwat, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Natheeporn Chueabundit
  • Released in Thai cinemas on February 19, 2009
  • Rating: 2/5

The ghost-and-dharma comedy Luang Pee Gap Pee Ka-Noon (หลวงพี่กับผีขนุน, literally Brother Monk and the Jackfruit Ghost, but also titled Sathu) seeks to blend slapstick and toilet humor into a tale of a criminal finding redemption as a Buddhist monk even as he faces the ghost of a village's malevolent moneylender.

It's a heartfelt effort, even if it relies on cheap sentiment and cheaper laughs. The pacing is jarring at times, as the tale goes from a footchase in the city to the serenity of a temple in a rural mountain village, from screaming villagers defecating themselves in fear from a ghost, to a former street hood as he contemplates the monastic life.

Tossapol Siriwat plays the monk. Before he shaved his head and donned the saffron robes, he was Sua, or Tiger Somchai, a salesman of water filters who preyed on the elderly, selling them home filtration systems at grossly inflated prices.

Hot on his trail is Sergeant Kongdej, a tenacious undercover policeman. He's played by comedian Petchtai Wongkamlao, who isn't really given much to do other than sit in an office and tell his ranking inspector and a large-breasted female police officer the story of how he tracked Sua.

So the movie belongs to Tossapol, who gamely moves from a life as a smooth-talking, well-coifed conman in the city to a shaven-headed monk, gingerly walking on a gravel road in his bare feet and choking down the odd assortment of vegetables he's received on his morning alms rounds.

The village where his temple is located is populated by idiots. They all live in fear of Mrs. Prik, the ill-tempered local landlady and moneylender (Natheeporn Chueabundit). She harbors a grudge against the temple's abbot because he refuses to accept her mentally impaired son as a monk. And she becomes even more fearsome in death, which occurs when she tries to harvest a giant jackfruit from a tree in the temple's garden. Squashed by the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, Mrs. Prik becomes a ghost who haunts anyone who partakes of the juicy bounty she sought to make her own.

The film falls back on the usual staples of Thai ghost comedies, which involve a lot of running around and screaming, even though things aren't really all that scary.

I will say this though: The lighting was nice, giving the ghost scenes an eerie grayish-silver pallor.

When the senior abbot leaves to visit another temple, Sua is put in charge and the villagers -- the usual collection of freakish rustics and screaming transvestites -- look to him for guidance on getting rid of the ghost of Mrs. Prik.

The villagers even resort to bringing in an African witchdoctor to exorcise the ghost, resulting in the most over-the-top scene in the film.

And somehow, the ex-conman will find peace as a monk, making his mother happy and also meeting a comely local nurse (Achiraya Peerapatkunchaya) -- the only person in the village who isn't an idiot -- who's there for him when he leaves the monkhood.

See also:
(Thanks to Limitless Cinema for suggesting this might be worth seeing.)

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