Beauty and the beast

Beauty and the beast

A reinterpretation of Thai folklore, Saeng Krasue delivers a human punch

Beauty and the beast
Thai folk ghost krasue gets a new life in Saeng Krasue (Inhuman Kiss).

A teen love triangle and the supernatural collide in Saeng Krasue (Inhuman Kiss), the reimagining of a well-known Thai folktale set in the era of World War II. A rural village is under a mysterious attack and the locals whisper the words of krasue -- a woman by day, and a ghostlike creature by night -- who leaves her body at home while her head and internal organs fly out the window to devour raw flesh. The condition is contagious through saliva.

In Saeng Krasue, teenage girl Sai (Phantira Pipitthayakorn) finds herself caught between the affection of her two childhood friends, Jerd (Sapol Assawamunkong) and Noi (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang). But as romance blossoms, she also battles her inner demon that manifests once she hits puberty. Sai is a krasue, a fearsome creature that her fellow villagers are determined to hunt down. To complicate things even further, a bloodthirsty hunter brings his cohort to the village, vowing to get rid of the flying, gut-eating ghost.

Much in the same fashion as past supernatural romances like The Shape Of Water or even Twilight, the mortals try fighting against all odds to be with their supernatural beloved despite strong opposition. The script, by Chookiat Sakveerakul (who wrote and directed 13 Beloved and Love Of Siam, among others) delves into the depth of teenage aspiration, desire and the lengths to which one will go to save a person they hold dear. It's a sin. It's a tragedy. It's a heartbreak. It's disgusting. But in the end it's all in the name of love.

We see unresolved mistakes from one generation creating a chain reaction that may crush the hopes and dreams of young souls. We see a sinister man claiming to be a good guy and volunteering to vanquish the evil. He brings in his force, though he may just turn out to be the biggest villain out there. We see the film and it's like we unintentionally see the world around us.

The story does suffer a little, as many things seem to be going on at once, especially toward the end when things starts to become unravelled. Certain twists, turns and subplots are not fully explained or realised, making different elements in the story a little hazy.

Still, despite some flaws, the film is enjoyable. It definitely exceeded my expectations. This krasue drama is packed with fantasy, romance and a little bit of horror that doesn't shy away from blood and guts. The computer graphics aren't bad either. The three young leads hold their own pretty well, especially Oabnithi, whom we have seen from The Blue Hour and the miniseries I Hate You I Love You. The actor will soon appear in Netflix's original Thai series The Stranded, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of him in the future.

While the young set the scene, it's the adults that complete the picture. We have veteran actor Surasak Wongthai playing Tat, the krasue hunter, who lusts for the blood (or rather the heart) of the demon. As a pleasant surprise for fans of krasue, we also see actress Nam-nguen Boonnak (who is almost 80 years old) in a cameo as Sai's grandmother. She famously played the role of krasue over two decades ago. Her appearance definitely marks a new era, a new world of krasue in which the legend is now passing the reins to the younger generation. The folklore lives on forever.

As the West has had its share of supernatural and horror folktales on screen, Thais find occasions to resurrect their own icons. In the past, we've seen everything from a modern retelling of Mae Nak Phra Khanong to the popular comedy Pee Mak. Even a cannibalistic ghost like pob got contemporary airtime in last year's HBO Asia: Folklore under the guidance of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. But the popularity of Thai folk ghosts varies, as some audiences may not always appreciate the local demons they consider outdated and uncool.

It will be interesting how the viewers' reaction to this revamped folklore. And what a time to be alive, really. The story of krasue has never been so hot because we're getting not one but two retellings of its legend this year. Another krasue film, called Krasue Siam (Sisters), is set for release early next month. Being released within weeks of one other, the two krasue films will inevitably be compared.

However, while based on the same folk creature, the two films are different in setting and premise. While Saeng Krasue is set in a more traditional, rural area and a time when people largely believe and fear the supernatural, Krasue Siam is set in a neon-lit city and urban high school, though seemingly with more magic and witchcraft than the more traditional Saeng Krasue. The differences in interpretation will definitely be fun to see.

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