Friday, 8 June 2012
Ghosts in daylight
Thailand has been churning out dozens of horror movies lately, almost all of them ghost stories of some sort. What makes them interesting (to me, at any rate) is that they are the product a Buddhist culture that's lately 'collided' with Western values, most notably individualism and the consumer capitalism that springs from it. So you've got a culture with reincarnation and karma woven into its DNA coming to terms with the Hollywood horror genre as well as all the good stuff from Japan (secular Shintoist culture) and Korea (Catholic Christian, mostly). Not sure quite where this is leading because I'm not an expert on anything I've referenced - damn! Suffice to say that Thai ghost/horror movies are worth a try, if you don't mind subtitles and the inevitable fact that these are films aimed at a young audience - the characters are almost always young and pretty. Of course, that could be a recommendation.
Anyway, here are two Thai movies I've seen recently:
The Ghost of Mae Nak is interesting because it's one of several adaptations based on a famous 'true' ghost story. I was surprised by its sly humour and - it must be said - the OTT gore in a couple of scenes, one of which is a rather cheerful nod to The Omen. Overall it works rather well, given the familiar device of the vengeful female ghost. Suffice to say that vengeance is not the only motivation and the film's overall message is 'Alas! Poor ghost'.
Altogether different is 9 Wat (aka Secret Sunday). This is about two modern, beautiful, rather selfish young people confronting dark secrets that - inevitably - involve a fair amount of 'try to make the viewer jump' scenes. The Thai title refers to the nine temples that the leading man's mother asks him to visit while he drives his girlfriend north for a holiday. Wise mum fears that bad luck is coming, and she's right - though thanks to some neat plot-twisting we don't realise till very late just how much bad karma is involved. This is, as low-budget horror movies go, very impressive, not least in unconventional scenes that show real creative insight on the part of writer(s) and director. Suffice to say that animal lovers might want to give it a miss, but not because of any gratuitous cruelty. Powerful, engaging and disturbing, this is again a film that offers some kind of redemption in what I assume to be the Buddhist tradition. Oh, and there's a cool monk who doesn't just do the spiritual stuff but also has a crucial part to play in the backstory.
I'd recommend both of these films, if you can get them. They may not be your cup of tea, but they represent a remarkable outburst of genre movie making that might yet surprise us with something stranger than variations on the 'teen in peril' theme.