P


Dir: Paul Spurrier
Star: Suangporn Jaturaphut, Opal, Pisamai Pakdeevijit, Manthana Wannarod

If you thought, "Showgirls was alright, but what it really needed was black magic and cannibalism," we have the movie for you. Khmer peasant girl Aaw (Jaturaphat) needs money to tend for her sick grandmother, so heads from the country to Bangkok to get a job she's been promised. What she doesn't know is that it's as a "go-go dancer" - basically, a prostitute catering to foreign men. However, Aaw was also taught the ways of magic by her grandmother and uses these powers to make her way up the ladder in the bar where she works. Unfortunately, she also disregards the Gremlins-esque rules explained by her teacher - don't eat raw meat, accept payment for passing on her skills or walk under a clothes-line(!) - and as a result, becomes possessed by a demon. This turns her into a flesh-eating ghoul, who feasts on the bodies of both her clients and her rivals. Will her friends and co-worked be able to salvage anything from the situation?

There's certainly potential here, yet is curiously schizophrenic in its approach: serious social commentary or exploitation flick? The film wants to condemn sex tourism - yet there are lengthy sequences of the bar girls writhing on stage. It's particularly harsh in its treatment of Western men - yet was directed by a Brit, who also has a cameo as Aaw's first customer (and played Max Headroom's creator in the original movie!). In short, the movie needed to make its mind up what to be, and go full-bore for that. Ideally, attack the B-movie jugular: jack up the gore to paint-the-walls-red levels, and add copious nudity instead of the coy, PG-rated flesh on view. Instead, you have something that kinda works, yet isn't wholly satisfactory on any level.

Jaturaphat is solid in the central role, especially considering she was only cast there the day shooting started: her transition from rural peasant to bar sex-pot to cannibalistic fiend is quite effective. However, the rest of the cast is not as effective, ranging from forgettable to cringe-worthy and the finale involves so much running, any tension built up in the preludes evaporates. It falls between two stools: too strong for a Thai audience (it seems to have been denied a release there), yet not strong enough for a Western one. Maybe it'd have been more memorable if Paul Verhoeven had been directing?

[A tortuous path to DVD here. Originally made back in 2005, it was first scheduled for release by Media Blaster in early 2006, then was shifted to October, and vanished entirely. Next stop, Tartan: just before they imploded, and the director even sold the film himself for a bit. However, Palisades Tartan have dodged the apparent curse - unless the DVDs melt before its release on October 20th - with a nice widescreen print, and special features including a commentary by Spurrier and behind-the-scenes footage. For more information, please visit their website].

C
[October 2009]




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