Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: 9 Wat (Secret Sunday)

  • Directed by Saranyoo Jiralak
  • Starring Siriphun Wattanajinda, James Alexander Mackie, Penpak Sirikul, Pharadorn Sirakovit
  • Released in Thai cinemas on April 13, 2010; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Everyone and everything has its own karmic cycle, according to the Buddhist-themed thriller 9 Wat (9 วัด).

Throwing a rock at a bird to keep it from eating a worm is one way to interfere with a karmic cycle you are not part of. In other words, mind your own business.

Altering the karmic cycle of another human being opens up a whole can of worms, as the characters in 9 Wat discover. On a road trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, they experience increasingly horrifying visions the closer they get to their destination. Final destination?

Not a boring Buddhist thriller, Saranyoo Jiralak's debut feature starts off with a bang, when the special-events-lighting designer Nat played by James Alexander Mackie finds himself in a terrifying situation, with grey ghosts, ghouls and crawlie things coming out of the woodwork.

Later he dresses up as a vampire in an effort to scare his girlfriend Pun, played by "Noon" Siriphun Wattanajinda.

They head out for a night of hedonism, drinking, dancing and smoking cigarettes in a flashy Bangkok nightclub. A chat with a friend in the women's room reveals a secret about Noon's character, who dresses in contemporary fashions and has dyed blond hair.

And, horror of horrors, she wears a revealing two-piece bathing suit when she goes swimming in her apartment building's pool. No good Thai girl would ever do that.

Left alone in the pool -- perhaps the other residents are frightened of so much flesh being exposed -- she has an unsettling feeling, like something is lurking or she's being watched. And doesn't that kid know he's supposed to shower before he enters the pool?

Pun and Nat are planning a road trip up to Chiang Mai. They've been together a year, but suddenly Pun wants to meet Nat's mother (Penpak Sirikul). She lives is Uthai Thani, which is on the way.

Mum is a devout Buddhist, and her family business is making Buddha statues. She frowns when she goes to wake the couple up in the morning, and finds them sleeping in the same bed. She says Nat has bad karma and urges him to visit nine temples to clear things up. She also wants Nat to go to temple with her in the morning, but Nat blows his mother off.

He does visit the temple, but it's to show Pun a comical drawing on a part of the temple wall he painted.

Throwing a rock at a bird to keep the bird from getting a worm, a young monk (Pharadorn Sirakovit) reprimands Nat, and tells him it's bad to interfere in the karmic cycle of other living things.

Turns out Nat knows this monk, who's an old childhood friend. Just by chance, the monk has his prayer mat all packed and is about to embark on a pilgrimage to Nan Province. And he would accept a ride.

Gosh, what a coincidence. Not. There are no coincidences.

Nat, speeding along behind the wheel of his Jeep Cherokee, stops at temples here and there. But only so Pun can use the toilet. He doesn't bother praying. Other temples, he drives by and honks.

The monk looks on knowingly and smugly. He knows something.

Like Nat is going to burn in hell.

Or maybe it's something else. something having to do with karma.

The fright-meter amps up little by little. A headless dog here, a rock thrown by motorbikers and a broken windshield there. A funeral and more monks. A blood-covered calf. A zombie worshippers.

There is no escape. Because it is their karma.

But what's cool about 9 Wat (Kao Wat) -- also called for reasons unknown Secret Sunday -- is that the bad stuff that's happening to the characters isn't necessarily because of how much they drink or smoke or how they dress or because they have sex or are faithless.

What's also cool about 9 Wat is the soundtrack -- a rock and electronica score by musician and DJ "Jay" Montonn Jira, plus a few bands, like the Richman Toy. It's effective, energetic and a refreshing change from the pounding pianos and grating strings that usually drone away.

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1 comment:

  1. I finally watched this tonight and I was shocked by how beautifully shot it was. This is Saranyoo Jiralak's first film? Aside from some pacing issues, I was blown away--it looked amazing and there were some creative and frightening effects. Between this and Nymph I think Thailand is producing the purest cinematic visualists in world cinema.


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