Sunday, October 12, 2008

Vamp or Not? Vengeance


This Thai film, Phairii phinaat paa mawrana in the original Thai and directed by Preaw Sirisuwan, is one that floated into my awareness as something that looked like a bit of a monster movie. The cover with the rather large serpent (the, so called, silverscale) did much to encourage that view. However the film’s imdb entry had, in the plot keywords, that wonderful word vampire. Thus I had to check it out…

Now, actually, there are two distinct creatures within the film that I wish to look at and neither of them are typically Western vampires and yet both carry traits that necessitate a ‘Vamp or Not?’ investigation. The film itself is kind of a take on the Lost World, ish. It carries a lot of plot that centres on character building and motivation and this, to some degree, gets in the face of something which should be a simple creature feature with guns.

is something there?We start in the jungle and men run in fear. One falls and says to the other to ‘get him out’, referring to his son Naso. His companion does what is asked, depositing the child outside the jungle’s edge, meanwhile we see that something has come for the father. When the companion re-enters the trees he finds a corpse and picks up a knife and a stone talisman. Naso has followed and accuses the man of killing his father. He is deposited outside the jungle again and left to howl his pain at the rain.

Twenty years later and a group of cops, led by rookie captain Wut (Watchara Tangkaprasert), raid a house. In it is an escaped convict who returned to see his wife and child. There is a large amount of gunplay leading to his eventual capture. Wut demands to know where the other escapees have gone, he is told that they are trying to cross the mountains into Myanmar. An older cop, who appears to be the second in command, tells him that the criminals may pass by *the temple*.

estranged father and sonHeading to the temple they meet the head monk and ask whether he has seen the convicts. Wut seems to have little time for the monk. That night the older cop tells another that twenty years ago a group of thieves went into the jungles to steal treasure. They all died, bar one. The thief went back to see his family and was arrested, he was the arresting officer, following all this the mother committed suicide. Their child was Wut, who was brought up as an orphan; the monk is his father (obviously becoming so after leaving jail).

The monk gives one of the local hunters the knife to give to his son, he’ll need it eventually. During the night the convicts, who are led by an adult Naso (Chalat na Songkhla), break into the temple, kill the monk, steal the stone talisman and escape (having injured the hunter) into the night. The cops are soon in pursuit and this leads to a gun battle that achieves little bar injuring one of the cops.

Chalat na Songkhla as NasoHowever what we have are two men, one good and one bad (as it were) both of whom blame one man (the monk) for the way they are; as he murdered his friend (he didn’t). This, however, is unimportant to our investigation, suffice it to say that the convicts end up in the forbidden jungle as do the cops, plus the hunter and his daughter Kratae (Nuttanund Chantarawetch), and in there they face a variety of creatures. We shall look at the two that interest us.

nymphettes in the waterBefore night falls both groups (cops and convicts) hear a sort of singing noise, which definitely sounds like women. The cops camp in a cave and one of them, Vee, hears the singing and laughter and goes out to investigate. He sees two women splashing about in a moonlit pool and… you know what… he’s tempted (Of course he is).

suddenly she has fangsAnother cop, Muek, follows him out and sees Vee getting down and dirty with these maidens. A rather strange scene then follows with Muek watching Vee and getting somewhat personal with his own right hand – the dirty little… His voyeuristic (and Vee’s more interactive) pleasure is interrupted when the maiden develops fangs.

being sucked, but from where?Now said fangs are not used in the way we would expect, but Vee screams as veins pulse across his face. His life seems to be drained from him, but the question is how? Well there is one obvious interface between Vee and the maiden… ouch. Muek looks up and sees a tree full of these women, who seem to have leaf like lower bodies (whilst in the tree). These are the Fruit Tree maidens.

Muek runs into the night and the maidens come towards him, fanged, bright of eyes and bearing talon like claws. It is an atmospheric image. Wut and the other cops come to the rescue and, the cops having fired what seems to be an ineffectual shot, the maidens slink back into the mists. This is the last we see of the maidens though Vee’s corpse is later described as being sucked by the fruit tree maidens.

fruit tree maidenWhilst they do not bite with their fangs they do suck the life out of a man and, as such, there is the sexual overtone that often permeates the vampire genre. They appear to be primarily nocturnal (we see them at night and only hear the song during the day) and there was a degree of overlay with the siren mythology (in feel, at least, with the laughter and sounds of song luring the men). One could argue that they are less undead and more vegetable but, to be honest, if the plants in Man Eater of Hydra had been like these creatures we’d have accepted that film as vampire genre. I would definitely say that the fruit tree maidens are vampiric.

Not long after this they meet two travellers Kamphaeng (Nuttaree Wiboonlert) and her sister Si-on (Jirapat Wongpaisarnluk). They are of the Karen people and Kratae, for one, does not trust them – though we get a budding romance between Si-on and Wut. The romance is kind of doomed due to the women’s (hidden) nature.

They are from a village in the jungle and they are under orders to bring travellers they meet home with them. The villagers were the guardians of the time travel coin, this being the stone talisman that Naso stole from the monk and yes time travel does come into this, at the very end of the film, in a way that I refuse to spoil but was handled in a much more intelligent way than I could have hoped. When the coin was stolen twenty years earlier the villagers were cursed.

as the full moon rises the fangs come outThey need to take the strangers to the village as quickly as possible as a full moon is due but, of course, Si-on has doubts as Wut has saved her life and wooed her. However they end up there after the group is intercepted by other villagers. As night falls she leads Wut away from a village festival and suggests that he gets his people out of there. They are intercepted before he can escape, however, and the villagers sprout fangs and claws. Si-on tells Wut to aim for the heart in order to kill them – very vampiric.

unfurling wingsThe village elder sprouts rather leaf like wings as she stands below the moon, heralding the changes. Meanwhile Kamphaeng has been attacked and, apparently, killed by Naso. As the changes come across the villagers she seems to resuscitate and attacks the criminal and his cohort. We do get a neck biting moment but it seems to be more for expediency of attack than sustenance.

full transformationThe wings, fangs and talons are not the final transformation stage and the villagers do seem to become thick, armoured skin creatures that, if I had to find a Western equivalent, I would say looked not dissimilar to a gargoyle. However, with fangs and claws sprouting in the first instance and the need to destroy the heart these also bear a similarity to the vampire. The fact that they are tied into a lunar cycle is very loosely similar to very early vampire lore – though lunar aspects have been totally superseded by werewolf lore in later years. We see no evidence of feeding on those brought to the village but, as it is all interrupted, who knows what they intended to do. I would say these fall into the vampire arena also.

Between the two of them there is enough to suggest that this film should be on vampire filmographies.

The imdb page is here.

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