Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Luang Prabang Film Festival 2012: Capsule reviews part 2

Tolong! Awek Aku Pontianak (Help! My Girlfriend is a Vampire)

Niggling technical problems continued to plague the Luang Prabang Film Festival. On Sunday, Day 2, in its daytime screening venue, the Amantaka Hotel, the DVD failed for Help! My Girlfriend is a Vampire. It was dodgy at the beginning, but continued to play, but by the end, everything seized up. It was the only DVD provided. What I did see was a highly enjoyable throwback to the Hong Kong horror-comedies of the 1980s. More contemporary eyes might see it being influenced by Shawn of the Dead, especially because of its videogame-playing protagonist Bob (Zahiril Adzim) and his afro-haired slacker roommate Pian (Sufian Mohamed). There's a colorful, episodic romance aspect to this that made me think for some reason about Wisit Sasanatiang's Citizen Dog. Help! My Girlfriend is a Vampire is a commercial Malay comedy by James Lee, the Malaysian filmmaker who gained traction on the festival circuit with his slow arty movies like My Beautiful Washing Machine. He's making slick commercial movies like this now though. He earlier made the girls-boarding-school horror Hysteria, but I liked Help! better, thanks to its wacky cast of characters, including he sad-sack Bob, who works at an advertising agency run by two horrible bosses. After a breakup with a stuck-up girlfriend who falls for a biker dude, he and his roommate move to a rundown apartment block. Bob becomes close to a young woman who is actually a vampire. Actually, she's a pontianak, a Malaysian version of a vampire, a female ghost who appears to be a beautiful woman until she pulls a pin from her hair and turns into a fanged monster. Decent makeup and wirework make the vampires jump. Anyway, at some point, I hope to see this movie again, on a DVD or file that actually works. (5/5)

Already Famous

Actress Michelle Chong makes her directorial debut starring in this sunny comedy about a starry-eyed small-town Malaysian girl who goes to Singapore with dreams of being a TV actor. Working in a shop selling televisions, Ah Kiao thinks she can make it big like another native Malaysian, Singapore superstar Christopher Lee. Encouraged by her grandmother, she makes her way to Singapore and works her way up, starting with a job hawking beauty products in a drugstore while she tries to get on at modelling agencies around the city. Eventually, she is picked up by an extras casting agency, which leads to her big break witha bit part in a soap opera. In her spare time, she keeps her eyes glued to the television in a local coffee shop, where she develops friendship with the young man who runs  the place (Alien Huang). Other colorful characters include Ah Kiao's gambling-addicted mother, her pirate-DVD salesman brother and a cohort extra actress who specializes in acting like she's been hit by an explosion. As her fortunes rise, Ah Kiao begins to have misgivings that fame might change her. Singapore's entry to the the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, is filled with cameos by local celebrities, which makes it an ideal primer if you're looking to get hooked on Singaporean television. (4/5)


Laos' first horror film is also the first Lao feature by a female director. Mattie Do's Chanthaly is about a young woman (Amphaiphun Phimmapunya) with a congenital heart defect who's been raised by her overprotective widowed father. The willowy girl has hardly ever left the confines of her gated home. Aside from her father and a female cousin who delivers laundry for Chanthaly to wash and fold for her home-based business, her only contact with the outside world is a neighbor boy. They speak through the fence by a spirit house whenever Chanthaly offers prayers to the shrine. And her father barely tolerates that little bit of interaction. She is haunted by the past, and may have witnessed her mother's suicide attempt. However, her father swears that her mother died in childbirth. The pills Chanthaly takes to keep her heart condition in check may be causing hallucinations, and she believes she is seeing a ghost (Phenmaly Pholsena), and it might be her mother. Later, her father brings a young doctor home, not only to treat her but as a possible suitor. Chanthaly is suspicious of him at first, and demands to know where he was educated – schooled in Paris, he assures her. The helpful doc wants to switch Chanthaly's meds, but doing so will mean the visions she's having of her mother will disappear. Eventually, Chanthaly's disposition grows stronger, and the meek girl is transformed into a headstrong young woman who is determined at all costs to keep the visions of her mother coming. As her character develops, the movie gradually shifts gears to horror, with ghosts in white dresses inhabiting a parallel realm of the house where it's daylight all the time. Gore aspects are kept to a minimum, except for a puddle of blood on the floor. For the most part, the film is quiet and slow-moving, with a minimalist soundtrack – the scares aren't tied to shrieking violins or sound effects, and yet it still managed to have members of the audience screaming. The film also prominently features Mango, the pet dog of the director and screenwriter Christopher Larsen. Possibly the mellowest dog ever in cinema, Mango is the namesake of the film's production company, Sleepy Whippet. Chanthaly was supposed to be the opening film of the third Luang Prabang Film Festival, however a problem with the digital file prevented that from happening and caused embarrassment for the festival organizers in front of various dignitaries. Luckily, another Lao film in the program, Huk Aum Lum, was pulled at the last minute because of a conflict with a distributor, so a later spot was opened for Chanthaly. What was screened on Monday night was a work print, so perhaps the film's slow pace will pick up speed in the final cut. (4/5)

1 comment:

  1. Loved "Tolong! Awek Aku Pontianak"... one of my favorite little quirky Malay romances from last year. Definitely give it a watch if you can when another opportunity arrives.

    Ummmm... But... it's not also known as "Claypot Curry Killers". That's another film entirely, although made by the same producer/director James Lee. Just a head's up... ;)

    Ooooh! "Chanthaly" sounds like one I'll definitely want to try to track down. Thanks for mentioning it.


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