Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: Mindfulness and Murder

  • Directed by Tom Waller
  • Starring Vithaya Pansringarm, Prinya Inthachai, Jaran Petcharoen, Charina Sirisingha, Abhijati Jusakul, Wannasak Sirilar
  • Released in Thai cinemas on April 6, 2011 (limited); rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

When a murder is committed in a Bangkok Buddhist temple and all the suspects are shaven-headed monks who wear the same orange robes, you know this is no ordinary whodunnit. Even the detective on the case is in saffron robes. He's Father Ananda, a former homicide detective.

That's the setup to Mindfulness and Murder, a movie directed by Tom Waller and adapted from one of the "Father Ananda Mystery" novels by Thailand-based expat writer Nick Wilgus. The Thai title is Sop Mai Ngeap (ศพไม่เงียบ) – literally, "the corpse is not quiet".

The corpse in question is that of a teenage boy, found stuffed into a klong jar with feet protruding. His eyes have been gouged out and a candle is jammed down his throat.

It's determined that he was a temple boy who lived in the monastery's homeless shelter. What really chills the blood is that needle tracks on the kid's arms make it appear he was a drug addict, raising the specter of dope in the temple.

But the cops are busy and don't care. "Investigate it yourself," the wonderfully weary police inspector ("Muek" Abhijati Jusakul, who died in September 2010 after filming) tells Father Ananda (Vithaya Pansringarm). And the temple's abbot (veteran thespian "See Tao" Jaran Petcharoen), eager to have the case cleared up, orders Ananda to get cracking.

So, methodically, the former homicide detective uncovers clues by piecing together a paper trail, asking around the neighborhood and checking the bottoms of other monks' sandals.

He gets help from a bespectacled computer-nerd monk (Sunon Wachirawarakarn) who works in the temple's office, as well as a cheeky temple boy with a bum leg (Pakapong Sangkasi). There's a helpful newspaper reporter (Charina Sirisingha) and even former Miss Universe Natalie Glebova pitches in with a cameo that serves to make an example of the non-existent state of national health care in Thailand.

Meanwhile, there are furtive glances from various monks, among them rough-looking types who smoke cigarettes and have what appear to be gang tattoos. They are all suspects.

There's even humor, thanks to an elderly bespectacled gossiping monk (Sin Kaewpakpin).

The tension ratchets up. Fake monks, fake cops, corruption and other symptoms of society's ills come slithering out.

It's worth noting this movie was passed without cuts by Thailand's censors, following a trend set by last year's "monks-with-guns" crime thriller Nak Prok, which showed the saffron-robed brethren in less-than-favorable light.

Fine performances keep the movie clicking along. As Father Ananda, Vithaya (who also co-scripted the screenplay) is a serene paragon of meditative calm but becomes gradually more intense as the stakes mount. Rapper-actor Way Prinya is appropriately menacing as one of the thuggish monks. And a surprise is performance artist "Kuck" Wannasak Sirilar in a role eerily similar to the conflicted clergyman he played in the 2008 short film Observation of the Monk by Pramote Sangsorn.

Mindfulness and Murder was made for about 5 million baht, the cost of craft service of the recent filmed-in-Bangkok, straight-to-video Hollywood actioner Elephant White, for which Waller's De Warrenne Pictures provided production services, and the two films share a director of photography, Wade Muller, whose work here is highly polished and atmospheric.

There's hope for a further entry in this "Father Ananda" series, with Waller and his De Warrenne crew already at work to develop a sequel.

1 comment:

  1. I still can't believe how short this film played in the theaters in Thailand, especially since one of the weeks it showed was during Songkran. A huge disappointment that I wont be able to see it in the theaters. Any ideas on when it will be released to video?


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