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March 27, 2008

The Unseeable

the unseeable 1.jpg

Pen Choo Kab Pee
Wisit Sasanatieng - 2006
Innoform Media Region 3 DVD

The Unseeable was playing theatrically, with English subtitles, during my first week in Thailand. I missed it, learning the hard way that if you want to see a Thai movie with English subtitles in Chiang Mai, it is best to hit the mall multiplex during the first week. It may have been for the better that I missed The Unseeable at that time as during my four and a half months I became more familiar with the genre of the Thai ghost story. With that perspective, I could understand how Wisit simultaneously adheres to the genre while adding his own stylist touch.

Unlike Wisit's previous films, The Unseeable was written by Kongkiat Khomsiri, writer of Art of the Devil II. It was all too easy for me to imagine what The Unseeable might have looked like had a director with lesser artistic aspirations been given the script. As it is, The Unseeable has the formal excellence of Wisit's first two films, but is also their opposite. The bright colors and flashy camera work or Tears of the Black Tiger and Citizen Dog are exchanged for shades of brown, white and burnt orange. The camera framing is crucial because of what what is seen, and either off screen or not easily identifiable.

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Also unusual is that The Unseeable is a period film. Taking place in the 1930s. the story is about a rural young woman who is seeking the husband who disappeared on a business trip. The woman, Nualjan, has been given the address of a house in a remote area that offers lodging. In the main house lives the owner, the mysterious Madame Ranjuan, who is pining away for her own husband. The household is run by Madame Somjit, a strict older woman given to walking around in the daytime with an old fashioned oil lamp. One of Nualjan's housemates is a young woman, Choy, who provides comic relief with her sassiness.

At least one major plot twist can be anticipated after the first half hour if not sooner. While The Unseeable is relatively subtle and restrained by Thai standards at least during the first hour, comparisons to such films as The Haunting or The Innocent is very misleading. Wisit has stated that the look of the film was inspired by the artwork of Thai artist Hem Vegakorn. If any western frames of reference are more apt, I would consider The Unseeable closer in spirit, as it were, to Carnival of Souls with a nod towards Mario Bava's Kill, Baby, Kill. Too often, the soundtrack blares to instruct the audience to be startled. As the film was made primarily for a Thai audience, the concessions genre conventions emerge strongly during the last half hour. And yet what Wisit achieves a more genuine sense of poignancy that a less capable director could only wish for. Unlike too many Thai filmmakers who think nothing of playing down to their perceived audience, Wisit aims a bit higher. Wisit's artistic aspirations may have hurt The Unseeable at the box office, but it made for a much better film.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 27, 2008 12:28 AM


That first still is absolutely beautiful. Given that I um, actually like really loud obvious soundtracks I probably wouldn't mind this at all.

Posted by: Campaspe at March 27, 2008 09:01 PM

I hope you find room on your rental queue to have Wisit's first two films, Campaspe. While The Unseeable does not have a US DVD release yet, the DVD I saw is playable even though it is officially R3.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at March 27, 2008 10:32 PM