Christmas has come and gone and yours truly has already Decked the Halls and jingled my bells to celebrate, so now it’s time to let you in on what’s new in your Favorite Catgirl’s DVD player this Holiday season. This time.. a look at the 2011 Thai horror film “Ladda Land” just out on Region 3 HK DVD with those ever so handy English subtitles on board for my viewing (and comprehending) pleasure.
Our synopsis? Well… that goes sorta like this: “Jumping at the chance for a higher-paying job, Thee (Saharat “Kong” Sangkapreecha) moves to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand with his wife (Piyathida “Pock” Woramuksik) and two kids, and finally gets that dream home he’s been striving to attain after 14 long years of trying in vain to afford. The happy family of four move into a new housing estate called Ladda Land, and all is well until a neighbor’s young Burmese maid is found brutally murdered and her body stuffed in a refrigerator. But all is not harmonious with the family and then even more eerie and strange things begin to happen at Ladda Land… “
As with most Thai films the last couple of years or so, this one was somewhat of a vexing lil’ effort to track down. Others have beaten me to it, review wise…. one good example being our friend elpeevio at his own film Blog, “Things Fall Apart”. (You can check out his review HERE…) But I’m nothing if not tenacious in my efforts to find my cinema goodies…. so it wasn’t long before I got on it’s trail too. Released sans subtitles in Thailand itself, the very first legitimate English subbed DVD to surface, in Malaysia was… errr… disappointing… to say the least. With subtitles that were obviously auto-translated by computer and never checked by anyone fluent in English it was one of my rare purchase mistakes. I figured I’d be searching for some accurate fansubs to use, when the good folks in Hong Kong came to my rescue and released their own version…. with good accurate subs. Yay!!
Think maybe it’ll be something you’ll want to see? Then you’d probably better “Read On” and see what it’s all about then…. 😉
It’s been some time since I’ve had a good Thai film to watch here so I definitely had high expectations for this one. Luckily, I can easily say it didn’t disappoint me at all. While I expected to see a simple horror movie… get some vicarious thrills and chills… and not really be given anything more, “Ladda Land” managed to transcend it’s simple premise and give me a lot more. Almost like watching two movies for the price of one.
Before anyone gets the wrong idea… this one most certainly is a horror movie… with plenty of ghosts and gore to spare. However, at it’s core… it’s also a very good drama too all chronicling the stresses and strains of a family in disintegration, pushed to their limits by modern consumerism and the effect trying to “keep up with the Joneses” in Thailand’s new economy can have in the face of traditional family ideals. “Ladda Land” would have functioned quite well at this even without the supernatural angle, giving us a look at a family doomed to ultimately fail and be torn apart by things beyond any one man’s understanding or control.
That man, Thee, is a good man. A hard working family man… who wants “the dream” for those he loves. What dream you ask? The same very universal dream all modern people want regardless of culture or country. A nice home, in a safe neighborhood, and financial security for your wife and children… a chance to give them all the good things society keeps telling you will bring them happiness. Doesn’t seem like much to ask… but for Thee it’s always been just out of reach. Seemingly till now….
At the start of our film, he’s putting the finishing touches on that “dream home” he’s always wanted for his family. But right from the start… we get the feeling that no matter how hard he tries… it’s not going to work out. For starters… his mother-in-law hates him. Actually that’s too kind…. she literally hates his guts and wishes he were dead. He married her daughter and “ruined” her life, forcing her to live in squalor. Given the chance, she took the opportunity to raise her granddaughter Nan, to be as heartless and spoiled a little bitch as she could, missing no opportunity to pass that hatred along to her in revenge. How could she get that chance? Easily… because Thee loved his little girl so much he couldn’t bear to have her live the hard life he and her mother would have till they saved enough for a home and so he let his mother-in-law take the child to spare her that childhood.
But that’s all over now… a new job has fallen into Thee’s lap, giving him the chance to relocate them from the slums of Bangkok to the “middle-class” dream of suburban living in Chiang Mai. But it’s too late. His daughter, Nan, only sees that the new home can’t compare to her wealthy Grandmother’s house… she has lost her friends and school and has to live with the father she’s bee raised to scorn and despise, the mother she’s been told didn’t love her enough to raise her herself, and the little brother who seems to have been given all the love and attention she was denied. Oh yeah…. she’s gonna be a little bundle of trouble for Thee.
Ahhhh… and then there’s the ghosts…. Right off the bat we find out that down the street a young Burmese girl who worked as a Maid has been murdered (by an evil “farang” of course… Sigh… It’s always one of us “evil foreigners” in these Thai films… Oh, well…) and her body stuffed into a refrigerator in her employer’s abandoned house. Pretty soon her begrudged spirit starts traveling around at night, visiting the houses she had been cleaning for others in the development. Lots of people getting nervous… creepy encounters with her as she goes from house to house… and the general superstitious fear that starts gripping people and making them leave the development… one by one.
Here… those first cracks in the family start getting widened as Nan encounters the ghost… only to have her father punish her for her fears thinking it’s just another one of her ways of trying to get back at him for bringing her here to be with the family. She doesn’t know it… but Thee’s got other problems riding him hard. For one thing… the house is mortgaged to the hilt… and his new job barely pays the bill. Worse… from the first time we see him at work, it isn’t hard to see that his job as a “marketing & sales rep” is actually part of one of those pyramid scheme scams that we just know will come crashing down soon. Thee must see it too… but somehow he’s blind to that, only able to see that shining future he’s fought so hard for these last 14 years. He’s sunk it all in the house…. rolled the dice, and can’t afford to fail…. even though you just know he will.
One by one… all those things start slipping through his fingers. Nan and he have it out over her behavior and attitude resulting in a midnight trip to the haunted house where the maid’s body was found. Thee wants to prove to her her fears are groundless, that he knows what’s real and what isn’t even if she doesn’t, and to assert his authority as her father once and for all. It’s a total failure. All it does is end with his daughter hurt… and hating him even more than she did before. Ahhh…. and although he can’t admit it to anyone… he begins to see the ghosts lurking at the edge of things too…. and it frightens him. Soon after… Nan move out to live with a schoolfriend at her apartment. Defeated and ashamed at having hurt his little girl, Thee does nothing to stop her. Then his job evaporates overnight… his boss fleeing with all the company funds and leaving Thee and his fellow employees high and dry. Ahhhh crap….
He’s forced to raid his kid’s bank accounts to secretly pay the bills… take a crappy low wage job as a clerk at a convenience store, all while trying impossibly to keep his family in their illusion of a happy home. Think things can’t get worse? Ha…. think again.
While he is wrestling with all this, there something weird going on right next door. What seems to be a dirty little bit of domestic violence turns out to be yet another man’s decent into a personal Hell over trying to keep that very same “dream life” in the face of financial ruin. Let’s just say… pretty soon there are lots more ghosts lurking around Laddaland for Thee and his family to deal with.
By the climax of our story, poor Thee has lost it all. His daughter is gone. He’s pushed his loving wife away with stupid suspicions of her being involved in an affair with her old employer. Last but not least… he refuses to admit that the ghosts can possibly be real, even when his little son starts playing games with the spirit of the dead little boy from next door. It’s too much for his wife to take, and she swallows her pride, making plans to leave him and take their children back to live with her mother in Bangkok. If only Thee were that lucky….
Instead, at the last moment his little son disappears, and crazed with fear, Thee goes next door looking for him to the haunted house where his neighbors died in that tragic murder/suicide that ended their particular misery. Of course the boy is there… of course the ghosts appear and push Thee to the edge of sanity… and then the unthinkable happens. Thee shoots his boy accidentally before his wife can stop him. Thinking him dead… Thee can do only one thing to make amends and shoots himself in the head in despair. A shame considering the boy isn’t actually dead… just badly wounded.
So… as our film ends, we get to see all the families leave, each abandoning their dreams, one by one, to the ghosts and their failures, Thee’s among them. As they drive away, Nan finally hears the one story she probably should have heard in the beginning of our movie; about a mother willing to have an abortion rather than a child, and a father willing to humble himself before a woman who hated him to save the unborn little girl he loved and the family he would have surrendered anything to protect. Too little…. and far too late to do anyone any good.
Overall it’s a sad tale… and really well done. I can say that it works both as a horror film as well as a simple drama about family and sacrifice. There are some particularly nice moments in this one that will stick with this little Catgirl for quite a while. The opening sequence… as Thee lovingly puts all the little touches on the home to make it just “perfect”. The way he decorates the children’s rooms…. especially the individual flowers glued to the hand painted tree on Nan’s wall. It really captured the heart of the character of Thee for me to see these things… and only made watching his family slipping away from him all that much harder. The gory parts are there, but subdued a bit for a Thai film working even better for that. The scene where Thee believes Nat to be trapped in the refrigerator used to hold the body of the Maid…. his struggle to open it only to have his wife call to say Nat was safe at home. It’s chilling and effective…. and yet never once do we actually see what was thumping about inside that refrigerator.
I give this one 4 “Meows” out of 5… and it shows once again that people in my part of the world should definitely pay lots more attention to the films of Thailand and Asia in general. They’ve become very, very good indeed at achieving an appeal that reaches beyond their own culture to embrace a lot of themes very universal to us all and yet still doing it in a way still uniquely their own. The HK Region 3 DVD for this one is excellent, with perfect English subtitles and formatted wide-screen and letterboxed for your viewing pleasure. It’s available most places for around 15-20$ US and well worth the price. It’s a very good film and I can definitely recommend it to any of you who like horror films that also make you think about a bit more than the average scares to be had.
Oh yes, my Gentle Visitors, there’s a Trailer…. Isn’t there always a Trailer? 😉 So here it goes!