It’s off to Thailand this time out for a look at 2013′s version of the classic Thai ghost story of Mae Nak, the horror comedy “Pee Mak”. Reaching a bit, perhaps for inclusion in our “Haunted House” theme for this month, but a classic ghost story almost always has some sort of haunted location…. and this wee Catgirl certainly loves classic Thai horror.
The quick synopsis reads:“Once upon a time during the King Mongkut Era during which Siam was still plagued with wars with neighboring kingdoms, Mak was drafted to serve in a war against foreign invasion, forcing him to leave behind his pregnant wife Nak alone at home in the village of Phra Khanong in Bangkok. In the life-or-death front line he met four soldier comrades who later became his best friends. Meanwhile, in Bangkok his wife Nak painfully struggled to give birth to their baby alone. After that rumors started circulating around that Nak had already died in labor and was now a ghost haunting the house and waiting for her husband’s return. At night, villagers in the neighborhood would hear her sing a lullaby to help her son to go to sleep, causing hair-raising chills up and down the spine to the villagers who lived nearby. When the war was over, Mak invited his friends to stay over at his house and meet his beautiful wife Nak. After a series of uncanny events, his four friends and some villagers worried for Mak’s safety so they tried to tell Mak that his wife was already dead.”
A little creepy stuff… a little funny stuff… and some sweet romantic stuff… I’m thinking we might just have a winner here. But… as always… the truth is in the watching, so let’s not waste any more time and get right to it, shall we?
If you’ve seen as many Thai horror films as a certain kooky Catgirl has, then you probably are already pretty darn familiar with this perennial Thai favorite… the tragic doomed love story that is Mae Nak. Heck… since the mid 50′s there have been nearly 20 different versions of this Thai folk-story done. On film, on TV… animated… live action… even as an opera. It’s been a horror story, a comedy, a musical… but always, it’s been first and foremost, a love story.
In every version, the story is basically the same… about a lovely girl named Nak, who lived in a tiny village near the Phra Khanong canal outside Bangkok, and her undying love for her husband, Mak. Her husband Mak gets conscripted to fight in a war while Nak is pregnant with their firstborn child. In the fighting, he is seriously wounded and gets nursed back to health in a military hospital in Bangkok. Meanwhile, lonely and pining for word of her missing husband, Nak and their child both die during a difficult childbirth. Once Mak heals from his wounds and returns home, however, he finds his loving wife and child waiting for him as if nothing has happened. His neighbors try to warn him that he is living with a ghost, but at first Mak doesn’t believe them and one by one are those who try to tell him the truth are all killed under eerie circumstances. Eventually he is convinced of the truth… and with the help of a Buddhist monk puts his wife and child’s spirits to rest. At least that’s how it usually goes…..
This time out… our story, as directed by Banjong Pisanthanaku, sticks pretty much to that general plan, but there’s a lot less horror going on here and a lot more comedy to help frame the tale of undying love that knows no limits… even the eternal barrier of death itself. Our heroes aren’t really Nak (played by Davika Hoorne) and Mak (played by Mario Maurer) however… instead this version revolves more around four of Mak’s friends, army buddies who return with him from the war, and who spend the bulk of our film playing “Abbott and Costello” meet “Laurel and Hardy” in the haunted village. They provide most of the laughs, alternating between lusting after their friend’s very pretty wife and being terrified by her once they figure out she’s now one of the “living impaired”.
Those four guys… Aey (played by Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk), Ter (played by Nuttapong Chartpong), Shin (played by Wiwat Kongrasri), and Puak (played by Pongsathorn Jongwilak) eat up a lot of our film’s run-time with their antics, mostly the broad physical stuff and potty humor that Thai audiences love. Mind you… it is all entertaining in that low brow way that such goofy stuff can be, but for me, the story should have focused more on the dynamic between Nak and Mak… and that love that defies death to continue. That’s the story I came to see.
Not that Nak and Mak don’t get their time to shine… and the chemistry between the two works and works well, but it’s just so overwhelmed at times by the crazy stuff going on around them. Ahhhh…. and the jarring anachronisms scattered throughout….
Yep. For a story that is supposed to take place squarely in the middle of the 19th century, (Right around the time of King Mongkut… you know… from “The King And I”…) there are some truly out of place plot bits that break the illusion and make you wonder just exactly when the story is actually happening. Like the scenes of that nameless war…. where our heroes look like they are hunkering in the trenches of WW1 and where Mak treasures a modern color photo of his loving wife and rallies his friends for that big “over-the-top” assault on the never identified enemy with a stirring speech that draws inspiration from… of all improbable things… movies… quoting elements and themes from “300″… “The Last Samurai”…and “Rocky”… Yeah… I kid you not. Apparently “Rocky” had an early debut screening somewhere in 1860′s rural Thailand….
And those aren’t the only odd elements. The village has a local tavern structured like a modern Bangkok tourist bar and throws a local festival right out of a 1930′s American traveling carny show. Complete with shooting gallery, Ferris wheel, colorful helium balloons, and even a Thai style “haunted house” tour. While in Thailand itself, these might have just been quaint gags, for me they were distractions that broke the feeling of the period story, again and again.
But, those quibbles aside, the thing that does ultimately rescue the film for me, at least was the surprisingly touching way our story gets resolved at the end. I had been expecting the usual “the living must never co-exist with the dead” theme that ordinarily rules Asian film. Instead… in this movie at least, love really does conquer all, and Mak and Nak end up staying together as a happy couple with a little ghost baby. Mind you… it’s one of those odd supernatural couples with a mortal guy and his magically gifted girl out of “Bewitched” or “I Dream of Genie”… but hey, it’s still a happy ending for our pretty ghost and the guy she loves and that’s refreshing. Yeah… yeah… Neko’s just that kind of goofy lady who loves some sappy, romantically silly stuff in her scary movies…. so sue me.
I give “Pee Mak” 3 “Meows” out of 5 as a result. It’s an OK film with a feel-good ending, it wasn’t the huge hit with me or Carolyn that the audiences of Southeast Asia made it at the box-office, but then I have to admit, we weren’t the target audience for it in the first place. It entertained us, and the sad romantic parts did make me sad and a wee bit weepy.. and the funny stuff did make me laugh now and again. I suppose that makes it a winner.
I caught this one on the Region 3 HK release, given that as is usual, the official Thai disc came without English subtitles yet again. Grrrr!! Thailand… this wee lady remembers “the good ol’ days”…. back at the turn of the 21st century… when practically every Thai DVD came subtitled into English at that crazy affordable price you were famous for. I, for one, really miss those days… The HK disc is more than acceptable at right around 15-20 $ US, and can easily be found at the usual places we crazy Asian horror movie fans shop. This Halloween season, as long as that kind of odd mix of comedy and horror are your thing, it’s an easy recommendation for a evening of light entertainment.
Naturally your favorite Catgirl has sourced you a Trailer, and here it goes!