Saturday, May 23, 2009

Review: Saranair Haao Peng (Saranair the Movie)

  • Directed by Nareubadee Wetchakam
  • Starring Pongpit Preechaborisutkun, Seksan Rattanaponpít, Ruengrit "Willy" McIntosh, "Ple" Nakorn Silachai, "Sena Hoi" Kiattisak Udomnak, Kotee Aramboy, Baby V.O.X. Re.V. (Ahn Jin-gyeong, Yang Eun-ji, Hwang Yeon-gyeong, Oh Min-jin, Park So-ri), Yuenyong "Ad Carabao" Opakul, Petchtai "Mum Jokmok" Wongkamlao
  • Released in Thai cinemas on April 30, 2009
  • Rating: 3/5

The biggest prank pulled by the practical-joke reality TV series Saranair Haao Peng (สาระแนห้าวเป้ง) is on us. It's not comedy. It's a tragedy that this passes for entertainment.

And therein lies the value of Saranai Haao Peng -- it is a documentary artifact of the abysmal state of popular culture, in which 90 minutes of hidden cameras and handheld video footage of juvenile antics can be made into a feature film.

In coming to the big screen, the 11-year-old TV series that stars soap-opera idol Willy McIntosh and the fearless, often nearly naked comedians Ple and Sena Hoi, turns the cameras on itself, becoming a self-sustaining, perpetual-motion machine. Often, it is difficult to know where the pranks end and the "reality" begins. Perhaps it is all just one big prank. I've never watched the actual TV show, so I don't really know.

For the movie, the host trio is auditioning two new staff members, a couple of young men -- the hipster dude Starbucks (Pongpit Preechaborisutkhun) and the bespectacled geek Lung Lens (Seksan Rattanaponpít). In order to be hired as "creatives", the pair must orchestrate pranks on celebrities -- comedian Kotee Aramboy, the South Korean girl group Baby V.O.X. Re.V, country-folk singer Ad Carabao and comedian Mum Jokmok.

The genius of the stunts is that they reveal a bit of the real personalities of the victims.

Kotee comes off as a genuinely nice guy, who agrees to leave a temple fair where he was performaing and ride on the back of a motorbike to visit a young woman's grandmother, who is said to be a big fan. It turns out to be the ride of Kotee's life, as he finds he's fallen in with a motorbike gang, is involved in a police shootout and is then haunted by a giant ghost. As seen in the previews, the rotund cherub-like comic was so terrified, he actually cried. But he's a good sport about it, and he also has a chance to get even with the Saranair crew.

The Korean girl group Baby V.O.X. Re.V are very appealing and cute, and they show they can actually sing when Starbucks and Lung Lens -- posing as hosts of a local entertainment show -- get them to harmonize an a capella chorus of the Tata Young hit "I Believe". But the girls also must be a bit daft, as they didn't spot the fake mustache and sideburns worn by Willy, who was supposed to be an uptight, overprotective bodyguard. Ple was believable though, as the transgender stylist for the girls' music video shoot on the beach in Hua Hin.

The mythic reputation of songs-for-life legend Ad Carabao is enhanced in his segment, as Starbucks and Lung Lens try to infiltrate the singer's entourage. The boys first try to sell Ad some car wax, but end up being run off by Ad's hangers-on -- a gang of tough, pistol-toting Harley Davidson bikers. The boys then attend one of Carabao's concerts, selling counterfeit Carabao merchandise -- absurd buffalo-horn ballcaps and hilarious fake Lek Carabao handlebar moustaches. They are captured and given a gentle talking-to by Ad, before being scared off by a tiger that Carabao keeps around. It's a joke that doesn't get the Saranair crew anywhere, but makes Ad Carabao an even bigger legend.

The most pronounced reaction to the Saranair crew's pranks comes from Mum Jokmok, whose indignant temper tantrum over his stunt spilled over into the local media, creating a juicy controversy that no doubt helped fuel the film's popularity. Mum also comes off as a bit of a jerk, even if his anger is justified. Starbucks and Lung Lens get Mum to participate in their stunt by posing as directors of an anti-drunk driving commercial. For the final shot of their public-service message, they convince Mum to strap himself into the back seat of a beat-up taxi in a professional five-point racing harness -- never mind that in most Bangkok taxis the seat belts in the back seat are removed or are inaccessible. The taxi then takes off at breakneck speed, driving through a building and then past several exploding gas canisters before spectacularly crashing into a truck. Mum is unhurt, but visibly shaken and angry. "I could feel the heat," he exclaims. It turns out, even though he's been a sidekick to martial-arts star Tony Jaa and headlined his own action movies, he always has a stunt double. That only makes his Bodyguard movies more remarkable. He simply doesn't take risks. "I have a family," Mum declared before the prank. After the film was complete, Mum accepted an apology, calmed down and said he would have been okay with the stunt had he been clued in -- kind of like Warren Oates on the set of Stripes, being angry after he'd been dumped in a puddle of mud without prior warning.

But in Saranair, Mum's negative reaction casts a pall over the rest of the proceedings. And no explaining or apologizing by Willy, Hoy or Ple seems to have any effect. Not even their motto -- that they only pull pranks on the people they love -- seems to sway Mum.

As it turns out, the biggest victim of all -- aside from the hordes of viewers who have made Saranair Haao Peng one of the most successful Thai movies so far this year -- is Starbucks and Lung Lens. Upon signing up for this punishing and often degrading employment stunt, Starbucks and Lung Lens are installed in a camera-rigged house with a few other friends and co-workers. In between the celebrity pranks, smaller practical jokes are played on the boys -- like releasing a nest of cockroaches in the bathroom on Lung Lens.

And it's the most elaborate and drawn-out prank that is saved for Starbucks and Lung Lens at the end, when all hope is lost, their chances of landing a job seem slim and their most valued possessions are taken away.

But even then, there's no problem that laughter -- and the sight of a pair nearly naked cafe comics -- can't cure.

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