Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Vamp or Not? P

vcdThis is a 2005 film directed by Paul Spurrier, also known as Haunted Spirit on the VCD release, and is the first Thai language film directed by a Westerner. What we get is certainly a well shot and artistic film with an almost heartbreaking performance by lead actress Suangporn Jaturaphut, that at turns is a horror story and at other turns an expose of the Thai sex industry.

The film begins with a school and the camera focuses on one girl, Aaw, it is clear she is lonely. A schoolboy calls her freak and the pictures that the class have done, of their families, are notable as hers has her on her own. She is pushed in mud on the way home, washes her clothes herself and then swims in the river. A hand grabs at her foot but she gets away and runs fearfully to a hut – where she lives with her grandmother – and cries, “ghost.”

Suangporn Jaturaphut plays AawHer grandmother is a local witch and they are Khmer rather than Thai. Her grandmother teaches Aaw spells. As she grows into adolescence (and the role is taken up by Suangporn Jaturaphut) we discover that she is feared by the locals as the witch’s granddaughter but the grandmother is very ill and Aaw's spells are not helping. She goes to the village store for rice and medicine but already owes 300 baht. The store owner (Pattanachat Sritep) suggests that she could get Aaw work in Bangkok and lends her 200 baht to get there.

Manthana Wannarod as MamasangShe is met from the bus by Pookie (Opal) who takes her to the bar where she will work. The manageress Mamasang (Manthana Wannarod) looks her over and decides she is in. She will need to buy her own costume, but the bar will lend her the money for that and she starts work at 5 that evening. She is given a new name, Dau. Pookie suggests that she gets some sleep on the stage and, after work, she will share a room with her. When asked why she is being so nice Pookie admits that, should Dau last a month, she will get a 500 baht finders fee.

uncomfortable with her new jobWhen Dau awakens the girls are already coming in to work and she has to get changed. She seems overawed and lead dancer May (Narisara Sairatanee), with her cohorts, Mee (Amy Siriya) and New (Supatra Roongsawang), are less than friendly to the new ‘jungle girl’. Dau is on the first dance and we see her fear and awkwardness as she gets on stage, Spurrier’s direction causing the poles to look more like a cell than anything else. Later May tells Dau that the bar is addictive and she will never escape.

Paul Spurrier as the ownerDau is asked to have a drink with a foreigner (Paul Spurrier). When he suggests that they go somewhere else she says she has to work, but Mamasang okays it. Dau is not sure, he is a foreigner, but Mamasang points out that all the customers are foreigners and that he is one of the bar owners. She is taken off to a hotel where she painfully looses her virginity to him, he gives her 2000 baht. The next night, in the bar, when she speaks to him he explains that he is married and does not sleep with prostitutes. Last night… she protests but he explains that last night she was not a prostitute…

snake attackDau starts using magic to make herself more pretty, and thus more brazen, her aim is to be the rising star of the bar and become a dancer rather than a whore. She sees a young new girl with the owner and we hear her grandmother’s voice instructing her as a child. There is a certain type of spell that should be used sparingly, or it will change the caster. Dau casts black magic at him, using a plucked hair from his head, and a snake attacks him in the toilet – almost biting his manhood completely off.

We then hear the three rules a witch must follow. Never pass under a clothes line, never eat raw meat and if you pass on the knowledge of magic never accept a payment. Dau tries out as a dancer but May has put Vaseline at the top of the pole, causing the young girl to fall and lose her chance. Dau curses May and the resultant accident (with a sword) takes May’s eye and a good deal of her face. In the meantime Dau has passed beneath a clothesline.

Pookie realises that Dau has cast the two curses and Dau promises never to use the black magic again. Pookie asks to be taught a spell (to make her breasts bigger) and kisses Dau on the cheek in return – Dau has accepted a payment. Out walking, Dau suddenly gets the urge to eat raw pork salad. When she is next with a customer, she awakens and walks the deserted corridors until she finds the hotel freezer for meat. Note this is reminiscent of a newly infected vampire aiming for meat in the first instance, a staple of many a genre film.

Dau's first victimBack in bed the customer suggests going for it again and Dau tells him to go to the shower and she will join him. He is in the shower when Dau goes in and attacks him. However we do not really see what is happening. We get a CSI type shot of his insides and then see blood pouring from his mouth.

showing fangsWe next see Dau walking the street. A child plays and Dau tries to take his shirt, revealing fangs… whether the child was attacked is not clear. Dau has broken all three rules and allowed evil to enter her heart and possess her. She is Phii Borb, a type of Thai ghost that possess the spell caster – though it seems it is as much born of the spell caster. What we can gather is that when Dau sleeps the evil is released. It then hunts food, leaping inside a victim and eating the organs from the inside.

waking with blood at mouthAfter the first attack we see her wake up, blood at her mouth, and find her victim dead. However, she doesn’t know if what she is experiencing is real or nightmares. Dau actually takes amphetamines to stop herself from sleeping – due to the nightmares she has. Pookie is having ‘nightmares’ too, of a grey skinned, bright eyed Dau – though Dau never seems to hurt the other girl.

the witchdoctorMeanwhile Mee and New have contacted a witchdoctor about May’s accident. He confirms that it is no accident and that there is a spellcaster of great power, but the spellcaster has lost control of the magic. He tells the girls to discover who it is and where she lives. New, unfortunately, brings herself onto Dau’s radar and is hunted down as a result.

drinking bloodIn an attempt to stop the madness Dau has Pookie handcuff her in the bathroom. There is a duality about the creature that it seems to live through Dau’s body and yet independently of it also (existing through her dreams). We have seen Dau having bad dreams when Pookie is there and I don’t think the film explained this well enough to make it clear why the handcuffs would prevent the Phii Borb from hunting. Further to this, of course, is the fact that it can become insubstantial, in order to enter bodies, and thus should have been able to slip out of the handcuffs, logically – however we can ignore this in the same way that we ignored the fact that Baron Meinster was unable to simply turn into a bat and escape his leg iron in Brides of Dracula. It is interesting, however, that Pookie gives her friend water and it is spat out and so has to give her blood to drink. The aim of the incarceration is to starve the Phii Borb, who starts wheedling to escape.

on the huntIt is certain that this is not like a western vampire, though they share some traits. It does drink blood, but also eats organs (flesh eating is a trait sometimes shared in the west). It has an incorporeal element for feeding purposes, as I mentioned. It acts at night, but this is when Dau sleeps, and does have fangs as well as glowy eyes and greyed complexion. I would say that this is pretty much on the radar for vampire genre fans and I am so tempted to say vamp, but am unsure as to whether it is simply because it was such a rewarding piece of cinema. It is a marvellously photographed film with an intelligent script and a fantastic lead performance.

The imdb page is here and a homepage can be found here.

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