Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: Venom (Asorapit)

  • Directed by Jarunee Thammayu
  • Starring Nonpichet Wongchanoksirikul, Preecha Ketkham, Chayutpol Bampen
  • Limited release from April 26-29, 2012 at the Lido cinemas, Bangkok.
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Cheesy special effects involving a giant cobra with red glowing eyes put the bite on an otherwise poignant social drama about religious and class conflict in Venom (อสรพิษ, Asorapit).

Supported by the Culture Ministry’s Thai Khem Khang (Strong Thailand) fund, the indie feature is based on a novella by Dan-aran Saengthong, a.k.a. Saneh Sangsuk, a famous Thai writer who was awarded the Ordre des Arts et Lettres medal by the French Ministry of Culture. Venom was translated into English by Marcel Barang and serialized in the Bangkok Post.

Set in a rural Thai village in the 1970s, the story centers on a young farmer whose mother was killed years before in an attack by a giant snake. Early scenes show the young man and his friends going around killing every snake they can find, and a clutch of cobra eggs is stolen from a swiftly pursuing serpaent and thrown in the mother's funeral fire.

As the years go by, the young man earns an honest living cultivating his small rice paddy. He holds to the traditional ways and is a devout Buddhist. He marries his sweetheart and they have a boy.

Meanwhile in the village there's a shaman who is attracting an increasing number of followers, though some of the men might just be there to look down the unbuttoned blouse of the shaman's large-breasted wife. With his wife helping, the white-clad shaman puts on a show that makes people believe he's possessed by a goddess who tells them they need to build her a temple. When public land is chosen for the temple's location, the farmer protests, making him an enemy of the shaman.

The shaman's influence grows, and more people flock to him instead of the old Buddhist temple.

Further causing trouble for the farmer is when his boy falls from a palm tree and is left with one arm paralyzed.

The shaman's young son becomes the school bully, riding his flashy motorcycle around and collecting a coterie of henchmen. He comes into conflict with the farmer's son.

Despite his disability, the farmer's boy wants to become a master shadow puppeteer. It's when he is putting on a puppet show for his friends that the giant cobra emerges and attacks the boy, coiling around him so that the snake and boy become one hideous creature.

Instead of rushing to help the boy, everyone runs away, and they eventually rally around the shaman, who says that helping the kid would displease the goddess.

It could be a powerful moment, showing the results of a conflict between blind materialism versus the a sufficiency lifestyle. But instead there's that darn snake-boy thing, and many in the audience simply laughed.

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