Pee Mak Phrakanong

So this time out we look at the big Thai hit of the year (and I think the biggest grossing domestic movie ever), which actually comes from a familiar face (to long term readers anyway).  Director Banjong Pisanthanakun has received a fair bit of love from me before with his rather good “Shutter” and “Alone”.  Now do you remember his segments from “4Bia” and “Phobia 2”?  The ones with the Thai comedy quartet, riffing Ghost story clichés along with slapstick and somewhat post-modern movie quipping?  You do?  Then this might affect your excitement, as this one is basically a full length return of these guys.  To be honest, I thought their segments were fairly amusing and OK, but I was worried if it would become tiresome when stretched out way past the 25 minute mark.  Shall we see what I made of it?

Pee Mak Phrakanong” takes its inspiration from a famous Thai Ghost Story.  Mak (Thai-German Mario Maurer) is a young man who is fighting for Siam sometime during the Rattanakosin period.  He has left his pregnant wife Nak (Thai-Belgian Mai Davika Hoorne) back home.  After suffering injuries during battle, he comes home with four fellow soldiers (all additionally oddly coiffured) – Ter (Nattapong Chartpong), Puak (Pongsatorn Jongwilak), Shin (Wiwat Kongrasri) and Aey (Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk).  Mak is greeted happily by his wife and newborn son, and he invites his friends to stay awhile in an unoccupied house opposite.  Besotted by Nak’s beauty they happily agree (some more than others), but it doesn’t take too long for them to sense something is not quite right.  The local Villagers are terrified of Mak, and eventually one lets slip that Mak died in Childbirth and is a Ghost, terrorising the community.  The four men are given even more hints that this may well be true (like a buried corpse in a nearby woodland), and try to convince their friend that all is not well.  But then they start to wonder if indeed it is Nak who is the ghost, or their comrade Mak who did appear to be mortally wounded in the earlier battle.  And if not Mak or Nak, then maybe their own mortality is in question?  Wacky hijinks do ensue, leading us to a final uncovering of the truth in a Buddist Temple.

Now long term readers and Thai Horror officiando’s will quickly see that this really is the territory this little group mined before in their short segments in the “Phobia” films.  And to be perfectly honest, for much of the movie it is really more of the same.  We get a well crafted and filmed Thai Ghost Story mixed in with anachronistic Humour (yes, once again, plenty of Modern cultural references, many of which are obvious to a Western audience), and quite a lot of grown men overacting and screeching like little children.  The humour is pretty broad and simple, and if jokes about diarrhoea and watching people eat maggots bother you then you may want to look away.  There is a fair bit of repetition, and some of the skits fall a little flat and are stretched out just a little too long.  Plus two people saying “Mak” and “Nak” over and over to each other is either deliberately funny or really annoying.

It is however beautiful in terms of cinematography, and if you cut out the jokes, there is the odd scare for horror fans, and bucket loads of atmosphere.  But it really is a comedy horror rather than a horror comedy.

Whilst our four familiar faces are doing their usual thing, what about the two story leads?  Well Mario Maurer is certainly a good looking fellow, and works well with the comedic side of things, though his character is in the main rather too soft for my liking.  Mai Davika Hoorne actually has very little to do than look utterly gorgeous (I mean draw-droppingly stunning, although her Eurasian background doesn’t bring too much Thai visually), and cast the odd meaningful glare at those around her.  Their scenes together, such as at a Fairground, and when they constantly profess their love to each other does have a certain ring of truth about it.  Despite the ridiculous goings on around them.  Sure Mak is terribly soft, but Nak is quite capable of a touch of teasing and sarcasm to balance this out.

That is until the dénouement.

In the Buddhist temple, the truths are finally revealed, and we find out who is dead and who is alive, and the honest truth about who actually knows what.  This scene imbues the film with two things.  Firstly, that in amongst some of the earlier slapstick, there were little hints and clues to what was going on.  I am not saying there was a huge mystery (believe me, it is one great big Shaggy Dog story), but little odd non-sequitor moments are both explained away and given meaning – not everything was purely there for laughs.  Secondly, and most importantly, it gives the film so much heart.  At it’s core it is a love story, about two people who have a love cut short by War and Death, but whose feeling for each other transcend even the most final of endings.  Yes it might have been a little struggle getting to this point (we could easily have lost 15 minutes of some of the earlier comic moments), but it is certainly worth the journey.

Just to finish off, we then get some final scenes that run beside the final credits (boy do I love that in a movie).  These are not out takes, they are actually just really funny additional scenes that actually give the biggest laughs of the whole movie. 

I loved this film.  Yes, possibly some of the humour was lost in translation, and the central part of the film is a touch too long.  Maybe we could have done without some of the who-is-and-who-isn’t a Ghost stuff (because we have so been there before with most of this cast).  But when a film ends in a way displaying so much heart, and then follows it up with proper belly laughs?  How could I not go so far to make this one Highly Recommended.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. mistressneko says:

    Nice! I've seen about a half dozen other versions of this old Thai ghost story, so I have been toying with picking this one up and it's good to hear it sounds worth it. 😉

    Hahahaha!! Yeah… the Thai audiences certainly do so like their lowbrow potty humor. At times almost too darn much, but you get used to it if you watch enough of them.

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  2. ElPeevio says:

    Hi Miyuki

    Yes, definitely worth picking up (in fact I'm pretty shocked you haven't already – it would have made a super joint review).

    Actually there was a pretty recent version of the story obviously played with a straight bat that I might hunt for.

    To be fair, the humour isn't half as lowbrow as some Thai things I have seen, I think the real issue is that the middle of the film is too much populated by extended repetition, and the half hearted use of the themes already seen in 4bia and Phobia 2 were to me on the edge of the goodwill I was willing to extend. However the general class, the ending, the post credit sequence and the utter beauty of our female lead (sue me lol) made it an all round win, and should ensure Thailand is represented in by 2013 roundup.

    Like

  3. mistressneko says:

    I've been aware of it for a while, and the fact that it was such a big hit in Thailand itself, but given that I just knew it wouldn't be released on a Thai disc with subtitles, I've been waiting for the HK release to surface.

    That's finally happened, but now I'm trying to decide on what other films I need to order along with it to make postage economical. (I'm obsessed… but thrifty!!)

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