Love and other nightmares

Three new releases this week are on show in cinemas across the country

What's more vicious than a ghost, as we Thais know from folklore and legends, is a female ghost wrecked by motherly love (in the Thai version, she would've been locked up in a clay pot). The gnarly, ferocious banshee in Mama is driven as much by post-humous rage as by fearsome tenderness, and save for some moments of dread up until mid-way, she scored slightly below-average on our fear-hardened scare metre.

Mama
Starring Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster- Waldau. Directed by Andy Muschietti. All theatres.

Our actress of the month Jessica Chastain, fresh off the bin Laden manhunt flick Zero Dark Thirty, goes against her career typecasting by playing a black-haired Goth rocker Annabel, a woman at the receiving end of Mama's wrath. Annabel's boyfriend Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has spent all his money looking for his two nieces who have disappeared after a gruesome family incident. The two, Victoria and Lilly (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse), are finally found in a half-ruined cabin in a degenerating state; like Mowgli (only much less fabled) they've become feral, almost animals, preferring to walk on all four and eating plants. After a psychiatric rehabilitation, which is not remotely successful, the girls come to live with Lucas and Annabel. Wrong move, of course, because something the girls call "Mama" have followed them.

Shock horror (will Annabel open that eerie-looking closet?) paganism (no Catholic priest involved) and 19th century romanticism (is love the final salvation?) combine to make a hotchpotch that might attract fans who notice the name of Guillermo Del Toro _ who's a producer, not director here. While Del Toro uses fantasy elements to reach deeper into childhood fear (see Pan's Labyrinth), Mama has flashes of terror then sets back to be, at best, routine.

Jan Dara: Epilogue
Starring Mario Maurer, Ratha Pho-ngam, Sakarach Rirkthamrong, Bongkot Khongmalai. Directed by ML Bhandevanop Devakula. In Thai with English subtitles at all theatres.

The final part of Jan Dara's carnal adventures should be best enjoyed (if you could) as a soapy theatre, with every twinge of jealousy, revenge, Oedipal labyrinth, hyberbole histrionics and soft-core canoodling (not to be confused with eroticism) exaggerated to the point of inflammation and amazement. With a stretch, it can also be read as a political innuendo, though the message somehow gets lost, or gets muddled, in the thick of such theatricality.

The sight of Mario Maurer, a heartthrob across Southeast Asia plus China, in Cloud Atlas-like make-up as he plays a 70-year-old man is unsettling at best and laughable at worst. He tries with all his might, though, and actually it's integral to the story that his character, Jan Dara, has to face the task of play-acting at this point in the tale.

After fleeing his sadistic stepfather to Pijit (that's the end of Part I, if you still remember), Jan and his pal Ken (Chaipol Pupart) try to find out the identity of Jan's biological father. But when fate forces him to return to the capital _ on the day King Rama VII abdicates, the film stresses _ a campaign of revenge takes place against the household of Lord Wisnan (Sakarach Rirkthamrong), along with his sexually insatiable daughter Kaew (Japanese erotic star Sho Nishino) and his mistress Boonleung (Ratha Pho-ngam). This involves our young and innocent Jan evolving into, or playing at being, the man he hates most in his life as the wheel of kharma spins through lust, lies and World War II. One major shortcoming is that the drama _ the source novel by Pramoon Unhathoop is a popular classic _ is interrupted by the film being spliced into two parts, released six months apart (this is no Kill Bill).

And by grafting more details and back stories to the original text (the whole thing about World War II for instance) the film twists the arms of the story that ends up like an unnecessarily long and winding road.

Jan Dara the novel, known for its erotic episodes, can be interpreted through so many lenses, from black comedy to spiritualism and politics; this film version seems to want to be everything, and probably ends up having less of everything, too.

Lost In Thailand
Starring Xu Zheng, Wang Bao. Directed by Xu Zheng. In Thai-dubbed only.

Just a few words on this Chinese mega-hit: The film is being released only in Thai-dubbed version. Meaning it will either become more hilarious or annoying, depending on your mood, taste and probably the phase of the Moon.

Thai dubbers are well-known for their verbal antics and enthusiastic (yet well-meaning) disregard of the original sound-track, and they've made this Mainland comedy half-Thai through their humour.

An odd-buddy flick, Lost In Thailand's main attraction for us, to be honest, is simply because it was shot in Thailand. Had it been called, say, Lost In Kuala Lumpur, it wouldn't have been released here. Still, the movie's zeal for buffoonery and comedic sketches is entertaining enough, especially because of the unlikely duo in focus, Xu Zheng and Wang Bao, playing two men on a mission in Chiang Mai. Their encounters with Thai ladyboys, amulet mafia and friendly elephants have reportedly boosted the number of Chinese chartered flights during this Chinese New Year holiday.

And sure, the film is perhaps a more effective tourism poster for Thailand than our official campaigns; the mix of beauty and quirk is just right, almost bland, certainly not offensive or critical. A sequel is in the pipeline _ it's win-win, at least for now.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Bangkok Post columnist