Director: Banjong Pisonthanakun, Parkpoon Wongpoom
Cast: Ananda Everingham, Natthaweeranuch Thongmee "Ja", Achita Sikamana
Year: 2004
Runtime: 90 minutes

Towards the end of 2004 word started crawling out of Thailand that a new horror film was scaring the life out of the local audiences and that this low-budgeted sleeper had become a huge box office hit. Always on the lookout for the newest wave in horror thrills, the ears of horror fans pricked up in anticipation. Horror films have become a major staple of the low-grade “B” market in Thailand with gaggles of them being produced and set upon unsuspecting buyers – so I approached this with mild skepticism but hope. The film hasn’t yet made the film festival circuit but apparently a number of U.S. production companies are bidding for remake rights.

This is certainly not a flashy film by any means – with small everyday sets, only a few characters with much screen time and dime store special effects. The cinematography and design aren’t particularly dazzling either – very basic and not at all eye-catching, yet without much of a budget these two young directors spent their money wisely. A good story and good sound effects – what else in truth does a horror story really need to get under your skin and let your imagination take over– creepy moments accentuated by the sound of unexplained footsteps crossing the room or the slow creak of a door mysteriously opening. That was enough to scare people on the radio for decades and that’s primarily what is at work here. At the same time though, a lot of these ingredients may have been better served in a dark theater among an audience ready to be scared – watching it at home on a VCD definitely lessens the “scare” impact considerably.
It is clear early on that the two directors have likely digested the recent onslaught of Asian horror films like a buffet special. These influences are seen throughout – from the main premise – a long haired female ghost looking for some payback – to many of the scenes that play out like bits from familiar films – “The Ring”, “Ju-on”, “Inner Senses” and even the Thai film “The Sisters”. Of course there has been so much crossbreeding in Asian horror films that it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the specific influences. Even with memories of other films tugging at the base of your neck throughout, the directors have added enough distinctive characteristics to make this feel like more than simply another knockoff – and its taut no-nonsense narrative leading to a literally weighty and peculiar ending will keep you curiously involved if not necessarily on the edge of your seat.
Tun (Everingham – “Ghost Delivery”) and his girlfriend Jane (Thongmee) are returning from a celebration with a few of Tun’s friends with Jane at the wheel when a woman walks right in front of the car and is run over. Jane wants to see what can be done, but Tun panics and forces her to drive way leaving a body in their rear-view mirror. It isn’t long before things begin rattling in the night and some pictures that Tun has taken at his college all come out with a smeary motion across them and in one picture just possibly the face of a dead person is revealed. This is enough to make them both go back and check up on their hit and run victim, but the police have no record of such an accident. Then their friends start committing suicide and dirty past secrets come spilling out like puss from a re-opened wound.
Though I enjoyed the film, I didn't think it lived up to the hype that is beginning to surround it. It does have its share of jumps and dread, but most of these are generated by easy "the ghost is behind you" sorts of scares and it takes perhaps a bit long before it begins generating them. The ending has received some praise and it is in its own way quite clever and morbidly deserving. What made the film interesting for me is in the way it slowly forces you to switch your sympathies from one character to another leaving a sense of sadness and despair in its wake. The film does indulge a bit too much in one of my pet-peeves of late - running from a ghost. What exactly is the point of that? I don't get it. Everywhere you go the ghost is waiting for you - so what makes you think you can out run it? Maybe I would do the same - but my preference is hiding under the covers where they can't see you!

My rating for this film: 7.0

A House of Mad Souls

Director: Sivavut Vasang-ngern
Cast: Cindy Burbridge, Byron Bishop
Year: 2004
Duration: 84 minutes (though the HK DVD box claims 105 minutes approximately but not exactly)

I always hate being mean, but this film is a complete stinker – a tosser if there ever was one (I've always wanted to use that term) – it is painful even writing a review – like revisiting a proctologist because he lost something and is wondering where it might be. So I will spend a little time first writing about the star of this film – Cindy Burbridge (Thai name Sirinya Winsiri) – who must have been doing this for a friend or a charitable cause. She seems quite cool. She was the Miss Thailand representative at the 1996 Miss World contest and her selection caused a few raised eyebrows apparently. The cause for this was her heritage – half western and quarterThai/quarter Indian with startling blue eyes.

Nine years ago it was somewhat scandalous and quite rare for someone of mixed heritage to gain this sort of prominence – now its all the rage and many of the current crop of Thai actresses are racially mixed – and splendidly beautiful. Read here for more about this fad. Outside of this though, Cindy is also a model, runs a dive center in Pattaya (with her co-star boyfriend in this film) after her father retired, is a VJ in Bangkok and is an activist to protect wild animals. Life sounds good – until she made this film. Now no one will invite her to gala events or allow her near a runway – what was she thinking? This appears to be her first film and I have to say she could have made a better choice to break into show business – like cleaning up after the elephants. All right, the film if I must.

Low budget doesn’t begin to describe this – it’s as if someone borrowed a camera for a day and decided to make a movie. It starts off well though – Jitta (Cindy) is swimming alone at night in an indoor pool and a pair of socks are slowly creeping up on her – ooh a slasher film perhaps – no just her friend Man (Byron Bishop) tapping her on the shoulder – but enjoy that moment because it’s the scariest one in this horror film – well except perhaps for the ghost in his underpants – but more on that later. Like most men, Man is swine – he whines that Jitta is spending too much time on her job and didn’t even say goodbye to his mother the other night. Boo-hoo. Jitta reminds him that she is a doctor and had an emergency – he continues to pout like Hsu Chi in her early days and tells her that she treats her patients better and so he is breaking up. Good riddance.
For some reason this upsets her and she takes a job in a hospital in a rural area to get away. But not before the whole breakup scene is replayed for us again just in case we missed something – but this time in black and white! These flashbacks of scenes we have just witnessed happen a few times – not a good sign in an 84-minute movie. But there are lots of bad signs – like hospitals that have no equipment, offices that have nothing but a desk and a lot of people who can’t act. Anyway, this little boy keeps popping up everywhere she goes – often in his underwear – and they chat for a while and then he disappears. He is a ghost – with no particular agenda except to have some company – but his father is doing a “Going Home” scenario with him and reading his corpse comic books. The kid never shows much interest, but then he is dead. That’s about it except for a twist at the end that I am embarrassed to admit I didn’t quite understand – is everyone in the movie actually dead or just the audience who sat through this?

My rating for this film: 0

The Omen

Director: Tamaraks Kamutamanoch
Cast: Apichej Kittikornjaroen, Woravej Danuwong, Kavee Tanjararak, Supatchaya Reunreung, Pisamai Vilaisan
Year: 2003
Running Time: 80 minutes

The Pang Brothers are hanging all over this film like Triads on a debt collection – they wrote the screenplay, edited it, presented it and probably bought the coffee – but they apparently left the directing duties up to Tamaraks Kamutamanoch. Oddly, in the DVD credits I didn’t notice any for director, but his name is on the DVD box and a few other sources as well (but there are also some that credit the Pang’s as the directors).  I can’t find any other credits for this director so perhaps the Pang’s were simply mystically transferring their vision through this person or maybe he is connected to them from some previous life. The movie has the clean sharp colorful look that the Pang’s bring to their films, but the camera work and editing is surprisingly mainstream with few of their trademark jazzy tricks. To some degree that is a relief as it allows you to focus on this peculiar little film without being distracted by off-setting camera angles and spinning rooms.

Though this has been marketed as a horror film, it is really not. It is more a supernatural yarn that spins a slow intriguing crisscrossing tale of fate and karma that almost feels as if it should have a “Believe It or Not” burned onto the end of the film. Unfortunately, I didn’t – at least for me the resolution is as dumb as a bag of bricks and leaves the viewer feeling as if he has been taken for a ride. But it’s a good ride as this film very subtly brings together a puzzle that has you wondering how all the strands are connected and what it means.
Three friends from childhood work together as graphic designers and all simultaneously come across odd situations that don’t seem connected, but as the film works it’s way forward they apparently may be. Dan (Woravej Danuwong) is driving home after work when he has to swerve to miss an old woman (Pisamai Vilaisan) on the road and crashes into a tree. When he wakes up he finds himself in her ramshackle hut and finds her mutely watching him. As he leaves, she mutters, “Will we meet again?” He thinks this strange but likely the ramblings of a lonely old woman – but when he returns to thank her later she warns him to take the stairs and not enter a small room. He is soon trapped in an elevator and is mildly freaked out by her prediction. There are others to come - one quite bad.
Beam (Kavee Tanjararak) has a nicer encounter – though it begins with a flowerpot falling onto his car from an apartment. The girl responsible is Aum (Supatchaya Reunreung) and after some ranting and raving by Beam he realizes she is fairly attractive and they become friends. Big (Apichej Kittikornjaroen) also makes a strange connection in his car when a young roadside garland seller plays a guessing game with him while he is stuck in traffic – the end result being that he loses his car models and gains miniature dogs – but he can’t figure out how the switch was made. Events eventually move from the unusual to the supernatural – while visiting the old woman again Dan notices an old dusty picture clearly taken a long time ago – when he looks closer he realizes it is a picture of Aum and suddenly these lives begin crashing together from almost different dimensions. The film had me up to this point – the performances are not great but personable – and it moves along very smoothly – but there is a big road bump ahead.

My rating for this film: 6.0