Friday, March 5, 2010

Review: Who Are You

  • Directed by Pakphum Wonjinda
  • Story by Prachya Pinkaew, screenplay by Eakasit Thairatana
  • Starring Sinjai Plengpanich, Kanya Rattapetch
  • Released in Thai cinemas on February 25, 2010, rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Tightly composed frames that come right out of a comic book leap off the screen in Who Are You.

Veteran leading lady Sinjai Plengpanich stars as a dealer of dodgy DVDs. With her dyed-hair wig she could be a sister of the sleazeball policeman her husband Chatchai played in Slice. But Sinjai's character Nida is less threatening. She's also pretty cheerful, joking around with customers and showing them how to relieve stress by laughing. She lets it out in big bursts of air from the diaphragm, HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

The smile turns to a frown later though, when she talks about her son -- the boy has been holed up in his bedroom playing video games for five years.

One of Nida's customers, a TV producer (Pongpit Preechaborisutkhun), finds something on the Internet that says the kid has a condition known as hikikomori, which is common in Japan, hence the name, and involves people who withdraw from society and lock themselves away in their rooms.

Nida leaves meals on a tray outside her son's door. She also buys him comic books, and slides them under. When he communicates, it's through angry one-liner notes written in red on ripped-out comic book pages. "Don't mess with me," he warns.

Meanwhile, across the street from Nida's house, there's a young woman (Kanya Rattapetch) in a Japanese-style cos-play outfit. What's her deal, and how is she connected to the story? Turns out she has allergies and can't go outside, or even go near the window. So she's a shut-in against her will. Instead of "don't go in there", it's "don't go out there".

Like a comic book that's been unbound and cut up, there are pages and panels that are jumbled and form a puzzle.

Another piece is Nida's involvement in a New Age cult that is teaching adherents the power of their minds and how to cut a pencil with a piece of paper while blindfolded.

And there's the display of taxidermied forest critters in Nida's home, left behind by her gun-nut husband, who she says is dead. It gives the place a creepy atmosphere, like Norman Bates' house in Psycho -- probably the intended reference.

Directed by Pakphum Wonjinda, who previously helmed the Sahamongkol horror-thrillers VDO Clip and Scared, Who Are You bears the loopy hallmarks of Thai horror. Appropo of nothing, a monkey offers comic relief. Of course, there's a ladyboy character. Only here, she's actually not annoying. And similar to Yuthlert Sippapak's Buppah Rahtree, a pair of bumbling cops briefly show up to defuse tensions. The roles could have possibly been intended for the two men who have now made perhaps a dozen cameos wearing their brown uniforms in various films, but here it's two other filmmakers, Taweewat Wantha as the lieutenant and Bandit Thongdee as the scared sergeant, who provide the laughs.

Producer Prachya Pinkaew came up with story and the hikikomori element. Remember, this is the nerd director who had an autistic girl laying waste to yakuza in Chocolate. He turned it over to writer, Eakasit Thairatana, and said, "go wild, son". The movie has the rare distinction in the Thai industry of being advertised for its writer. The manga-influenced Eaksait wrote the comics that director Chookiat Sakveerakul's 13 Beloved (13 Game Sayong) was based on. He also wrote director Paween Purikitpanya's Body #19, the GTH thriller that flipped like a comic book, and had a hand in GTH's 4bia, I believe Paween's Tit for Tat segment.

By the end of Who Are You, fans will recognize the comic-book influence and the cartoonish traits.

Holding it all together is Sinjai, whose character is so sympathetic, you want to knock on that son's door and shout at him, "Look at what you're doing to your mother". Eminently watchable, she is the key to the suspension of disbelief. Any nagging questions that might come up are nipped in the bud when she's collapsed on the floor with blood dripping on her cheek.

In her hair ribbons and majorette's uniform, young actress Kanya also ably shoulders the burden of keeping the story lurching forward.

Who Are You is also known as Krai ... Nai Hong (ใคร ... ในห้อง ). But it's the English title -- in its declarative form, no question mark -- that the movie is listed as at the Thai multiplexes. The title has also been stated as Who R U, for the character-limited age of SMS and Twitter, but could also be Who Are You! -- exclamation point because of the hysterics, screams and many plot twists the characters go through.

Audiences can add their own question mark at the end. Or, go see it again and try to figure this puzzler out.

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