— Guest post by Wolff —
For the past 9 months my family has been hosting a Thai foreign-exchanges student, and she is returning to Thailand tomorrow. So I thought today would be a perfect time to post about a Thai movie she showed me that I thought was pretty great. Pee Mak (I would translate that for you guys but it’s a name, not really a word) was directed by Banjong Pisanthanaku and came out in 2013. It is thus far the highest grossing film in Thailand, as well as one of the highest in Asia. It’s a horror comedy based off of the well-known Thai legend of Mae Nak Phra Khanong (again, the first half is a name and the second half is the name of the village). There are basically six main characters, including four played by what is apparently Thailand’s modern equivalent of the Marx brothers: Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk, Nuttapong Chartpong, Wiwat Kongrasri, and Pongsathorn Jongwilak. The first two paragraphs will contain some potential spoilers!
As the film opens we see Nak (Davika Hoorne) struggling in childbirth alone, crying for her husband Mak (Mario Maurer). But he is away at war with four other soldiers he has become friends with; Aey (Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk), Ter (Nuttapong Chartpong), Shin (Wiwat Kongrasri), and Puak (Pongsathorn Jongwilak). They are nearly overwhelmed by an assault but Mak rallies them, saying how he refuses to die without seeing his wife and newborn child. They escape despite Mak being gravely injured, and return to Mak’s village. Mak and Nak are joyfully reunited, and Mak invites his friends to stay in a nearby hut.
The next day the five men go into the town where they encounter suspicious villagers who believe that Nak is a ghost. Mak is angered by the claims and refuses to believe anything of the sort, but his friends become wary. Back at Mak’s hut, the four find evidence that everything is not as it appears. Shin is creeped out when he tries to find Mak at his house late at night and everything looks run-down. Ter finds a partially buried, decomposing body in the woods, and all four are subjected to a meal of rotting leaves and worms that Mak seems to have no problem with. Now convinced that Nak is a ghost, the four men try to tell Mak that he needs to get out. He rebuffs them and they retreat, coming up with a plan to “free” him. They abduct him from a local carnival he was attending with Nak, but when he reacts to some rice that has been blessed by a priest, his living status is thrown into question. The four friends must now figure out exactly who is alive and who is the ghost before they can rescue the living from the dead.
Going into this I really had no idea what to expect; I had never seen a Thai film before, and all of my knowledge about Asian culture comes from the few animes/mangas I have looked at. The closest American comparison I can think of is the Scary Movie series, but it’s really in genre only. This film is not a compilation of horror trophes and the humor is less crass than the American style is right now. But I have to say, this movie is one of the greatest balances of horror, comedy, and romance that I have had the pleasure of seeing. I have mentioned before that I don’t really do horror because the suspense kills me, but this movie was ok because it wasn’t too heavy on the suspense. Sure it was there, but it is really more of a comedy than a horror film, so I did alright.
Fortunately for us English-speakers, the majority of the comedy was physical so it’s funny in any language. As much as I appreciate witty humor, I also love me some slapstick, and this film delivers. The romance was also very well done I feel, there were some really cute moments between Mak and Nak and a couple of scenes that were very sweet. There were a few things that were lost in translation, but they were mostly cultural quirks. For example, at the time this is set (it is technically a period piece) it was fashionable to eat a kind of fruit that left people with black teeth, so that’s why the entire cast appears to have rotten teeth.
Overall I thought it was a really cute comedy with some horror thrown in, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s pretty easy to find with English subtitles, the version we watched was on Youtube. So if you’re looking for some Thai culture or if you just want to branch out a little with some comedy, this is the movie for you!
“You know I’m terrified of ghosts. But I’m more terrified of living without you.”
— Guest post by Wolff —