Friday, October 1, 2010

Review: Ngao (Shadow)

  • Directed by Atsawin Thepkanlai, Theeratorn Chaowanayothin, Eakasit Sompetch, Chanachai
  • Released in Thai cinemas on August 26, 2010; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Three decent low-budget short horror stories and one that's nonsense make up Ngao (เงา, English title: Shadow), a horror omnibus from 96 Film.

Hun Suan (หุ้นส่วน, Partners) by Atsawin Thepkanlai is about a group of motorbike-riding youths who throw rocks at windshields and steal loot from the still-bleeding corpses in the resulting wrecked cars. Fear and betrayal begin to dog the friends and soon they are riding down a dark, foggy road of terrors. The set-up is similar to the Novice segment of last year's Phobia 2 horror anthology from GTH, which also had motorbike punks smashing windshields with rocks. But the result here is much less slick and more gritty, with lo-fi lighting that causes a cool graininess that makes the film look almost rotoscoped at times.

Taeng (แท้ง, Abortion) by Theeratorn Chaowanayothin, is about young man looking to set the world on fire as a photographer whose world comes crashing down when his girlfriend tells him she's pregnant. Three years later, both the woman and the man have either been fired or lost their jobs and creepy little girl is shadowing their every move. Guess they made the wrong decision three years before.

Dai Daeng (ด้ายแดง, Red Yarn) by Eakasit Sompetch looks into the folly of disbelieving superstitions. He's the director who two years ago did the fun, low-budget back-yard martial-arts short Mai Fah the Sabulakui featured at the 12th Thai Short Film & Video Festival. Here, it's a story of friends who attend a funeral and according to tradition have pieces of red yarn tied around their wrists, and are supposed to keep it tied on until they get home, to keep the spirit from following them. But it doesn't work out that way.

And finally there's Kong Mae (ของแม่, Mother's Belonging), directed by Chanachai. It's a nonsensical horror-comedy with a serious title. A story of prison escapees hiding out in a short-time motel, this segment is marred by a stereotype of Thai comedy, namely a flamboyant transvestite gay sex fiend who tricks the escapees into having sex with him, with the help of a female college student and a hole in the bed. But what the story is realy about is a young woman's ghost looking for her earring. The usual artless running-and-screaming ensues.

Ironically, Kong Mae had the best ending of the four shorts. The earlier three, while were more suspenseful and artfully executed stories of bad karma and its consequences, simply faded out rather than coming to satisfying conclusions.

Ngao represents a trend in the Thai film industry. Following the success of GTH's 2008 shorts-anthology Phobia (Si Phrang or "4 intersections", followed by Phobia 2 or Ha Phrang, "5 intersections"), other studios got in on the action, with Sahamongkol Film International offering last year's Haunted Universities (Maha'lai Sayong Kwan), with horror shorts set at universities, and Poj Arnon and Phranakorn offered Tai Hong (a.k.a. Still or more literally Die a Violent Death).

As with the case of Ngao, Tai Hong and Sahamongkol's recent erotica compilation Namtan Daeng (Brown Sugar, released the same week as Ngao), these omnibus films are being used as proving grounds for young indie filmmakers and work them up to directing their first feature.

Except for the final horror-comedy segment, Ngao shows there's some promise.

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