Pii Hua Kaad 2
Reviewed by Simon Booth

Director: Kromsan Tripong
Year: 2004
Starring: Thua Rae Chernyim, Der Doksadao, Chonticha Boonruengkaw
Time: 105 minutes

2003's PII HUA KAAD was one of the surprises of the year, being a comedy-horror from Thailand that didn't suck.  In fact, it was rather good, thanks to a decent story, promising young male lead, good production values and some inventive special effects.  Perhaps because it kept the comedy in the background too.  If you've seen the film, you may be a little surprised that it's spawned a sequel, since the plot didn't naturally suggest one.  The sequel is pretty much a "name-only" sequel as it happens though, and it eschews pretty much all the things I listed as virtues in the first film in favour of... well, not having them, basically :(

The first PII HUA KAAD didn't exactly have the tightest scripting, but this helped to keep the film fresh and interesting as it went in sometimes surprising directions.  PHK2 also does not have tight
scripting, but rather than "unexpected and interesting", it wanders rather close to "incoherent" in this film.  The overall story just about hangs together, though due to some bad editing it takes more brain-power than necessary to realise that it's actually a very inane tale.  Strangely, the ending credits include clips from a bunch of deleted scenes, some of which would seemingly have really helped to make the story flow better and make sense.  Perhaps their removal was a deliberate attempt to obscure the fact it wasn't very interesting.
If those scenes had been replaced with quirky, inventive or amusing scenes it might have been a wise decision, but the bulk of the film consists of really dull humour involving stupid people doing stupid things.  I'm not sure where the idea originated that giving the hero a really annoying, stupid, cowardly best friend and sidekick would make him seem more heroic in comparison... but I wish it would go away. And transvestite side characters who bear the brunt of some stereotyping and bigotry for comic effect then die unpleasantly aren't exactly welcome anymore either.   Some of the comedy is undoubtedly lost in translation, but there are plenty of scenes that don't rely on verbal humour, and none of them are funny, so I don't really expect the wordplay is very amusing either, even if you do speak the language.  The soundtrack composer tries overly hard to convince you you're being amused, which isn't a good sign.  Or soundtrack :p
Maybe I'm being unfair to the film, and it just caught me in the wrong mood - or it suffered due to high expectations from the first film (which in turn probably benefited from low expectations when I watched it), but I don't think I am - I think Pii Hua Kaad 2 is genuinely a poor film.  It is a little better than the bulk of the "horror comedy" films from Thailand, but that's not really saying much given that most of them are unwatchable :P  PHK2 at least has decent production values and is just about watchable, though I don't think I'd go so far as to say "enjoyable".


BTW, Pii Hua Kaad has acquired an official English translation for its second cinematic outing.  The literal translation is apparently "Headless Ghost", which makes sense for both films, but the official English name is now "Headless Hero (2)".  Unfortunately, this translation proves to be completely inappropriate for the second film... the only headless guy here is definitely not the hero.

The Adventure of Iron Pussy

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Michael Shaowanasai
Cast: Michael Shaowanasai, Krissada Terrence
Year: 2003
Running Time: 90 minutes

Thai film director Apitchatpong Weerasethakul has in a very short time become something of a darling in the arcane art cinema crowd with his two films "Blissfully Yours" (2002) and "Tropical Malady" (2004), which won the Jury Prize at Cannes. These two films though seem to be love them or hate them affairs with audiences and they are famous for the large number of walk outs at film festivals. Friends have told me that death would be a more pleasant experience than sitting through these films again. Other people though rave about them as a breakthrough in cinema and that they are a new form of cinematic language. Cool. I have yet to see either – not that I am a coward necessarily – but I know I will have to be in the right mood to sit through these and I am not entirely sure what mood that would be. Now a few years ago I did see his first film from 2000 – "Mysterious Object at Noon" – and though I found it completely enigmatic and confounding – it was also a film that I found oddly fascinating and I thought about it long after leaving the theater.

The Adventure of Iron Pussy is an entirely different matter. This is a much more frivolous effort and probably much more fun. Apitchatpong teams up with multimedia artist/performer Michael Shaowanasai to bring to the big screen a character that Michael had developed previously in some of his performances called “Iron Pussy” - a transvestite super hero. The results are an affectionate campy send up of super heroes and old Thai films in which people break into song, love is tragic and the good guys always prevail. In some ways this resembles “Tears of the Black Tiger” with its old film affectations – saturated colors, intentionally clumsy action, overly heightened dramatics, exaggerated melodrama – but Iron Pussy is a much more modest comical affair. Though the low budget campiness begins to drag somewhat after initially being delightfully silly, the film generally holds up with just enough humor, corniness and songs to get you to its sweet ending. The DVD has an amusing interview with both directors – and Michael says that he would love to make other Iron Pussy films all with different directors to see what their take would be and he goes on to mention in a joking manner how John Woo or the Pang Brothers might do it – that would be rather fun to see!
The film announces its intentions immediately in the opening credit sequence in which Iron Pussy (played by Michael) comes to the rescue of a damsel in distress and with each punch of the villains there is a freeze frame and a credit blazoned on the screen. After receiving a bottle of special sauce for her heroic efforts, Iron Pussy rides off on the back of a motorcycle that her sidekick Pew owns. In a flashback we learn that Pew was once a drug addicted petty criminal foaming at the mouth until Iron Pussy set him back on the right path and he is now her loyal assistant. In her other identity Iron Pussy is actually a middle-aged balding man who works at a 7-11 – though once he had been a go-go boy – and if he spots trouble he quickly dons his wig and dress and becomes the feared Iron Pussy (generally using the English term which makes it sound very super heroish!).
The Thai government makes use of Iron Pussy as well for dangerous assignments and delivers messages to her 7-ll check out screen. They have learned that a farang, Mr. Henry, has deposited large amounts of money into Thai banks and suspect he is up to something no good and ask Iron Pussy to investigate – after they all break into a song she has only one question – “do I have a budget for a wardrobe?”  She poses as a maid to infiltrate the household of the very wealthy Mrs. Pompadoi – sung in doo-wop fashion to “pom pom pom pom pom” and is selected because of her great beauty and true old-fashioned Thai female characteristics. She falls in love with Mrs. Pompadoi’s son and he with her – leading to a lovely duet in the fields – but ugly secrets are soon to emerge as he is also known as the dastardly Dr. Goldfoot and possibly may even be  . . . her brother!  Can love overcome all of this? It’s all rather silly fun for the most part with it’s enjoyable low budget nonsense – like an earthquake being simulated in time honored low budget fashion by shaking the camera or when she is tied to a tree it is obvious that the ropes are barely secure around her wrists. This might not to be everyone’s liking – it clearly has drag queen sensibilities and the gay community may be its most obvious target audience – but I found it sweetly amusing.

My rating for this film: 7.5

The Tesseract

Director: Oxide Pang
Stars: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Saskia Reeves, Alexander Rendell, Lena Christenchen
Time: 97 minutes
Year: 2003

The Pang Brothers have effortlessly floated between the Thai and the Hong Kong film industries and made a number of films for each. The Tesseract is a slightly different animal as it seems to fall into neither film industry but is aiming for more of an international audience with the main actors being English and the funding seemingly primarily from Japan. The story takes place in Thailand though and most of the crew is Thai – so it seems to make sense to put this review into the Thai film section. The film, which was released in 2003, did achieve some international success as it played in various festivals around the world and has been picked up for distribution in a number of countries. But for the most part the reviews have been less than positive and have accused Pang of once again falling into his self-made trap of prizing style over substance. I could not agree more.

Oxide brings his usual trappings to the film of jittery fast cut editing, lurid color schemes and off-kilter angles that are interesting but are becoming almost cliché for him. In one sex scene he uses the same effect of shooting it - so that it appears to be going around a rectangular box - that he did in “One Take Only”. In that film it made sense – making the first time a couple made love seem special and magical – but here it didn’t have that emotional meaning and was only for visual effect with no content behind it. Time is also played with for dubious effect.
Time lines are criss-crossed – going backward and forward and being seen from different perspectives. For example a man shows up at a door with a bandage on his face and the film zooms backwards so that we can see how this happens. Cause and effect. Sometimes the same moments are witnessed at various points through the film in different threads as the film follows various characters. The meaning of this is fairly clear – lives often intersect without knowing it – random people being in the same place at the same time but seeing it very differently – and eventually fate brings these random points together in tragedy. You are living your life when someone else's bad karma intrudes into your parallel world. Ok – so what? Every head on car accident in the world is a series of random events that led to tragedy – we don’t need slick filmmaking to tell us this. You sort of want to tell Oxide to take a year off from filming and study Wong Kar-wai who can use many of these same stylings to create emotional resonance – not distance the audience from it.
Like a character out of a Joseph Conrad novel, Sean (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers – Bend it with Beckham) is a low life Englishman waiting in a run down seedy Bangkok hotel that is ironically named Heaven. He is waiting for a drop off and slowly going crazy in his sweltering isolation and seeing Matrix like effects in his room and flies dive bombing like Zero's out of the sun. Some Thai gangsters are having him safeguard and transport a cache of heroin from his room to the dock on the following day. Why they would have chosen him is left unexplained. It turns out to be a bad selection.  Another lodger at this hotel is a clueless English woman named Rose (Saskia Reeves) who has come to Thailand to interview children as a means of therapy one assumes to get over the grief of her own dead son.
Two other characters enter into this story – one is a Thai female killer who has been tasked to get the drugs back – and she waits in the room below Sean’s with a bullet wound and a desire to stay alive long enough to carry out her assignment. Connecting these three characters to some degree is Wit (Alexander Rendell) – a young boy who works at the hotel in various menial jobs but makes up for this by being a petty thief. Rose finds him stealing her camera one day but takes pity on him as she is completely taken in by his smiling face as he plays this silly tourist for a fool. Not able to take the boredom any longer Sean invites a Thai bargirl back to his room – the upside down sex – and the next morning his stash is missing. His employers are not happy as events begin to unravel and bring many of these characters together in a splash of death. The film just never involves you – none of the characters are particularly sympathetic – they are near enigmas and their destinies have the same impact upon you as reading about a fatal car accident in the morning’s newspaper about people you don’t know and now never will.

My rating for this film: 5.5