Strange but true ... for all we've been talking about Paul Spurrier's Thai ghost story P around here we've never actually reviewed it up until now. Well, Richard Brunton just caught the film in Edinburgh and here he is to share his thoughts ...
The last showing of the day during my second day at the Edinburgh Film Festival 2005, and not only that but also my first ever chat with a DirectorProducerWriterActor...and whatever else you can list. Meeting Paul Spurrier, the man responsible in all the aforementioned ways for the film P, was indeed a very interesting experience, and one I hope to repeat before he heads off home again. More about that chat later, back to the screening for now.
P is the first Thailand film Directed (Screenwritten, Produced, Musically arranged and Edited) by a British talent. It's also not a tourist movie, it's an explorer's movie, as Paul explained to one interviewer asking him. He hasn't arrived in Thailand and made a Thai movie only to disappear. He's lived there, learned the language, the customs, and made every effort to understand the country and the people before making the movie, and this makes a huge impact onscreen.
It's hard to put this movie in a box, and it's hard not to try. You want to call it something when you're describing it to people, and I found myself trying to say horror, or Asian. Well it's both...with some comedy thrown in for good measure. As Paul says himself it's a fun, and serious, adventure. It's better not to try and put it in a box and rather just go and watch it, or in this case go on and talk about it.
From the opening I found myself transfixed by the settings and location. From the countryside setting of the opening I was fascinated by how beautiful the country looked. Gorgeous settings and some beautifully chosen locations. I found myself looking closely at many of the smaller details, from the tree carved and varnished into a seat in the village scene to the bus that arrives to take Aaw (Dau, the main character) to the City.
The title sequence struck me as interesting, and I have yet to find out if this was intentional or not, but it plays out like a series of comic book panels, or storyboard scenes. Perhaps there was some reasoning behind this, or perhaps it was just the way it turned out. However it does give a nice feel and a representation of broken moments while Aaw learns from her Grandmother.
This lush setting was then broken by the images of the city, a good transition scene showing the building confusion of Aaw as she gets lost in the sights and sounds of the City. At first the camera shows shots of new office blocks against old slums, street vendors and passing taxis, then the pace picks up and the roadside begins to blur. You pick out frozen moments at the roadside, a Louis Vitton shop, and then the senses are overrun and there's just a stream of passing light and noise.
Then the movie is taken over by the story of the City and the story turns to the plight of the girls of the go-go bar. What struck me throughout these scenes of the girls is how delicately they are portrayed. The girls themselves are never shown as being sleazy themselves, more manipulative. Apart from Aaw, now christened Dau for her new job, who has come to this world with her eyes firmly shut. They are actually shown in a good light, good in the sense of bleakness and the repeated idea that this is the end of the line, and there's nowhere else to go. It's interesting that the speeches that some of the girls give about the life they're in all show that they've accepted this life as the norm, it's only Dau that seems to have a problem with it.
The scenes at the beginning of the movie with Dau being "initiated" into this way of life are quite uncomfortable, and make you feel as sleazy watching them as the men with them. That should be almost, as Paul plays an excellently nasty person, and the scene he holds with Dau is steeped in a feeling of you're seeing too much, knowning this is just so wrong. It's that kind of emotive response from the audience that really makes a good scene, and that certainly delivers.
The girls are very good actresses, something I was surprised at was how natural they all seemed. In particular the relationship between Dau, played by Suangporn Jaturaphut, and Pookie played by Opal. They both are really strong together on screen and you really do believe that these two girls care for each other.
The story is written well and the ending very satisfying, although perhaps it is cut a little too harshly before the final sequence. You feel that there could have been a few scenes restored that were originaly removed (in fact thirty minutes have been cut from the completed footage). Perhaps something for the DVD edition. The story centres around a particular type of spirit or ghost (phii) that the Thai people believe in, one which literally eats its victims from the inside out. You see Dau is a witch, and when she turns to the nightlife of the City to earn a wage to help her sick Grandmother, she begins to use her powers to help her earn more money and remove some of the obstacles before her. Before long she's using her powers in ways that her Grandmother had warned her about, and she forgets to heed some of the rules associated with being a witch. Slowly, this leads to the arrival of a spirit, and one which has an insatiable hunger.
I was surprised at some of the special effects in the movie, the look of the spirit herself is supremely creepy, and in keeping with other creatures of Asian horror that may be more familiar. Also the scenes where the spirit enters the body and begins to eat from the inside are very well done and look to have been created with quite a budget behind them. Then there's a car crash scene which by no means seems small either in budget or in physical size on location.
There are some truly scary and creepy moments that I would definitely class as alongside more famous Asian horrors, I did jump once or twice, and carried an image or two to my bed that night, a superb affect for a movie to have. Some of the scare moments are excellently shot to provide just enough scare factor. Indeed the quality of the camera work throughout the movie is very good.
Let's not forget the comedy in the movie as well, there are a couple of pretty funny lines. For instance the Desk Clerk asks the Security Guard to visit a room as someone has complained about a Westerner "moaning loudly" in the room. "A westerner moaning loudly in a hotel room? That's unusual!". The subtitles are in perfect English and carry through the humour very well.
Something I wasn't so sure about was the comic element during some of the horror scenes. I'm not entirely convinced it was intended in some parts, although without a doubt the scene with Paul was funny and uncomfortable at the same time, yet others I was unsure whether to laugh. This is particularly true of a scene where a Westerner dies on a bed and blood shoots out from his ears, a few of the audience laughed and I was unsure if this was the desired reaction. It really did feel like a Hammer House moment.
Although the story did seem to leap through a few key moments in Dau's power misuse, and also just prior to the ending, I enjoyed the movie, even with the comic horror moments which I felt let it down slightly. There were some very scary and uneasy moments throughout, and the girls were very well acted and were portrayed with an unusual sensitivity for a Westerner. Combined with some amazing locations early on, this makes for an enjoyable movie, just don't watch it too late.
Review by Richard Brunton.