Neuchâtel 2022 Review: LEIO, Very Hungry Mega Giant Butterfly Lizard
Directed by Chalit Krileadmongkol and Chitpol Ruanggun, the Thai monster movie stars Pichaya Nitipaisalkul, Dhanantorn Neerasingh, and Gena Desouza.
Underground lizard seeks food. Film at 11.
The film enjoys its international premiere at the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival today at 22:00. It screens again on Friday at 19:30.
Seeking release from an onerous recording contract, Rapper Kao (Pichaya Nitipaisalkul) instead finds himself framed for possession of drugs. His career now in tatters, he receives even more devastating news: his Grandpa Wut, who raised him after his parents died, has himself died.
Kao and his cousin Jane (Gena Desouza) travel from Bangkok back to their dusty hometown, Tung Tawan Yang, in northeast Thailand, which is suffering from a drought, in order to pay their respects. Their grandfather's assistant, Yo, introduces himself, and then a vision from Kao's past appears: Fon (Dhanantorn Neerasingh), a childhood friend who has grown into a beautiful young woman and is a successful YouTuber who has herself moved away from town.
Ten years before, Kao left town to pursue his musical dreams, cutting off relations both with his grandfather (due to a colossal misunderstanding) and with Fon, who harbors ill feelings toward him for abandoning them both. Fon has decided to help her hometown by sponsoring a one-million baht prize -- about US $28,000 -- for anyone who can find groundwater nearby, which will start the restoration of the village.
One problem: the hungry giant lizard introduced in the opening sequence.
As described by John Squires at Bloody Disgusting, Leio feels like Tremors with a giant lizard, which is the description that came to me as I was watched the movie. According to Culture Trip, "Thailand has a large population of water monitor lizards ... [which] ... can grow up to around two metres (6.5 foot) long and weigh up to 50 kilograms (110 pounds)." For many reasons, many people in Thailand evidently do not love giant lizards, which provides a great basis for a movie about the biggest lizard anyone has ever seen.
Leio, based on a story by Charoen Kaithitisuwan and a screenplay by Chalit Kraileadmongkon, is constructed around classic monster-movie tropes, with a pleasant mix of silly comedy, disbelieving local citizens, treasure-seeking hunters, and bloody, gooey special effects -- watch out for severed limbs and gushing fluids! The characters include a big shot in the drilling industry, Boss Mee, who provides a buffoonish counterpoint to the more sincere efforts by Kao, Jane and Yo to find water to honor Grandpa Wut, who was well-known for his kind and charitable efforts to help anyone in need.
The film features several mawkish, though well-intended, flashback scenes to Kao and Fon in their youth as they are each helped by Grandpa Wut. The visual effects fit the bill for a monster movie that depends primarily on the goodwill generated by the lead players, who valiantly handle both the generally lighthearted dialogue and the sparks of chemistry that erupt.
Directors Chalit Krileadmongkol and Chitpol Ruanggun maximize the entertainment value of the picture by setting about half the monster sequences underground, and then making good use of shadows and suggestions to make the above-ground footage complementary, if not entirely believable. But then, when has a giant monster movie ever been truly believable?
Besides, I'll take the good humor evident in one short scene in which we see the giant lizard slumbering atop a large truck, its arms comically folded like a human's, any day of the week over a monster movie that takes itself too seriously. Leio knows when to take itself seriously and when to relax and have a good time with itself and its audience.