Saturday, March 10, 2012

Two reviews: Mae Nak 3D and Ghost Day

The makers of Mae Nak 3D (แม่นาค 3D) – the first Thai 3D feature – ought to provide special glasses that prop viewers' eyes open. It's that dull. All around me, other movie-goers had their 3D glasses propped on their heads and were busy texting on their cellphones rather than watching.

Inexplicable and confusing jumps in the chronology remove any suspense that could possibly be derived from this well-known ghost story, which has been depicted in film, television and on stage dozens of times.

About the only reason to do the Mae Nak story again is to do it in 3D. But while there are a few moments when the special effects by the teams from Imagimax and Kantana shine, they are more cartoonish than scary. And, you can only get so much mileage out of Nak's endlessly stretching arms reaching out of the screen to strangle you. The gag gets old pretty quickly.

The story is pretty much the same as 1999's Nang Nak, directed by Nonzee Nimibutr and scripted by Wisit Sasanatieng. Set in a canal village in old Siam, Nak is a pregnant young woman whose husband Mak is called away for military service, and while he's gone she goes into labor and dies trying to give birth to the stillborn baby. Her love for Nak is so strong, her spirit won't let go and when Mak returns he is unaware that his lovely wife is a ghost. And she takes her revenge on anyone who tries to clue Mak in, as well as anyone who offended her before she died.

Wisit has said that the story of Mae Nak was originally a stage play, but it was recounted by word of mouth so many times that the origins were lost and it became "true". There is even a shrine capitalizing on the Mae Nak myth in Bangkok's Phra Khanong district, which back in the day was a rural canal village and is the setting for the Mae Nak story.

Mae Nak 3D, finally released on March 1 after many delays, aims to show more about the relationship of Nak and Mak, and starts the story before their marriage, with Mak courting Nak by pulling her into the canal for an amorous swim and sweet-talk time. Later, at the village temple fair, he vanquishes a foe in the Muay Thai ring in order to further impress his gal.

Meanwhile, there is a competing suitor for Nak's hand, the village headman's spoiled son Plueng (Chalat Na Songkhla). He hires the local sorcerer to make a potion that will make Nak fall in love with him. The method of dispersal is pretty inefficient though, even if it does give the special-effects folks an opportunity to have amber drops of liquid coming out of the screen. But one of those drops hits Nak's best friend and makes her insane. Another hits a water buffalo, with predictably humorous results for Plueng's bumbling henchmen. When the potion doesn't work, the sorcerer says he needs the blood from a fetus to make Nak fall in love with Plueng, but the only pregnant woman in the village is Nak ... and, well, I'm so confused I don't know what to say.

Battles between Nak and her arch-nemesis the village sorcerer make for some of the best special-effects scenes in the movie, with the wizard tossing black-magic rice at Nak and the rice burning into her skin. Another good scene is Nak sticking out her tongue and bugging her eyes out. And even the ghost baby gets in on the action, crawling around in the rafters, scaring his dad half to death.

For the most part, the usual beats of the story are hit. Mak returns home to find his house is dusty and full of cobwebs. Finally his wife shows up. While cooking Mak's meal, she drops a lime through the floorboards and she stretches her arm to reach 6 feet down to the ground to retrieve it. Nak, having discovered his wife is a ghost, makes an excuse to leave by saying he has to go outside to urinate. He knocks a hole in a water jar and makes his escape.

There's no forehead bone element to this story – that's something Wisit came up with from the biography of the monk Somdej Toh, who lived back when Nak was supposed to have lived.

But Mak (Rangsirote Phanpheng) does make love to Nak. He caresses a single Rated 15+ bare ghost breast, but it appears to belong to a sharper-chinned body double and not the star actress, "volcano boobs" "Tak" Bongkote Khongmalai. Playing Mae Nak is a dream role for Thai starlets, and Tak devoted herself so much that the movie became a vanity project.

The suspense is further killed by the slapstick shenanigans of comic supporting characters, among them a pair of old-time comedians and a boatman who is quick to leap into the water, escape the ghost and provide laughter. (2/5)

There's a lot of black-magic ghost-fighting rice flying from Thai movie screens, in 3D thanks to Mae Nak 3D and in 2D thanks to another flick, Ghost Day  (Gang Tob Phee, แก๊งค์ตบผี), starring rapper Joey Boy and Jazz Chuancheun as pair of gadget-toting ghostbusters who are recruited to perform an exorcism on reality TV.

Thanit Jitnukul directs this movie, released by Phranakorn. I thought perhaps it was the result of Joey Boy having the Bang Rajan director as a consultant on Joey Boy's directorial debut last year, the zombie comedy Gancore Gud. But actually, Ghost Day has been sitting around in the can awhile – the copyright date on the end credits is 2010.

It's not a horrible film, but not that great either. It's eye candy, with vivid cinematography, enthusiastic young actresses like Phimanara Wright (plus a cameo by "Kratae" Supaksorn Chaimongkol) and a few decent scares, but the story becomes so convoluted and confusing, I feel like I lost some of my brains trying to keep up.

Essentially, the two ghostbusters perform an exorcism on a TV producer (Phimnara) by mistake, and when it turns out the ghostbusters' master has a viral video on YouTube, the struggling reality TV producer contacts the ghostbusters to come on her show. The TV crew thinks they are going to stage a fake exorcism, but then a real ghost shows up and takes turns possessing the bodies of various other folks, including another producer (Boriboon Chanruang) and a "ghost-face" actress. With much running around and screaming in a dark, vacant building, the drama unfolds on live TV but is ultimately more exciting for the viewers in the movie than the viewers of the movie. (2/5)

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