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September 26, 2007

The Victim

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Phii Khon Pen
Monthon Arayangkoon - 2006
Tartan Asia Extreme Region 1 DVD

The Victim is another film where great effort has been put into the visual design, but not enough into constructing the narrative. Monthon is a filmmaker who seems to be happy making what is essentially a Thai film for Thai audiences who couldn't care less about the gaping plot holes that make me wonder what kind of film was intended in the first place.

That The Victim could have been more inventive is revealed almost midway through the film when the story of a vengeful ghost turns out to be a film within the film. What could have been a parody of Thai film cliches, and the demands of the Thai film industry is instead yet another Thai horror film. The Victim is certainly inventively photographed, with an eye towards creating unease for the viewer. Monthon's debut film, Garuda, about a giant flying monster let loose in Bangkok, had a narrative that made more sense, while Monthon seemed to have fun with the genre, as well as poking fun at Thai attitudes towards Europeans and Americans. With an film industry that churns out ghost stories on a regular basis, Monthon drops the opportunity to play with genre conventions.

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The film within the film starts off promisingly showing a young actress, Ting, in drama school. A policeman invites Ting to re-ennact crime scenes. During my almost five months in Thailand, I never saw any crime scenes re-staged for the police and public, although in Chiang Mai, the main crime seemed to be bad driving. Ting is concerned about offending the dead women she is impersonating. Giving the preposterous set-up a chance, Ting finds herself visited by many wandering ghosts. Ting is possessed by the spirit of a victim, one with a wrongly accused killer. Where The Victim falls apart is that the film within the film ends up making more sense than the narrative about the making of the film, with the actress May, who plays Ting, haunted by a vengeful ghost. If most Thai films can be described as vernacular, The Victim concludes by attempting to connect the dots in an extremely hasty manner. On a technical level, the montage is a dazzling display of technique. What little explanation about what was seen seems barely related to the previous events. The result is that Monthon lost his way, confused by his own film within the film, and his several dreams within dreams.

Where The Victim is somewhat unusual from many Thai ghost stories is in the choice of Pitchanart Sakakorn in the lead role. Pitcharnart as Ting almost resembles a Thai Audrey Tatou, a change from the films that usually feature actresses that look like popular Thai star Paula Taylor. What few twists are offered in The Victim are, in addition to the technical virtuosity, not enough to disguise what ends up being just another Thai ghost story.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 26, 2007 12:23 AM