May 24, 2008
Ghost of Mae Nak
Mark Duffield - 2005
Tartan Asia Extreme Region 1 DVD
I was saddened by the news first relayed by Wise Kwai that Tartan USA had closed down. Even though not all of the titles were worth seeking out, I especially liked the Tartan Asia Extreme label because of its dedication to bringing some good and even great Asian films to the U.S. Not only were there films from the usual countries such as Japan and Korea, but also Thailand and even Singapore. The Denver Public Library has fifteen films, and I have two more titles to go before I have seen their entire collection. The are questions regarding what is going to happen to the 101 films listed with Tartan USA. I might be wrong, but considering that the label was distributed by Genius Entertainment, which is owned in large part by the Weinstein brothers, and that the Weinstein's launched their own Asia Extreme label, it is possible that an agreement was in the works well before the official announcement.
Mark Duffield's film makes for complimentary viewing to Nonzee Nimibutr's Nang Nak. The oft film story is a Thai legend that takes place in a past time, when newlyweds Mak and Nak are separated after Mak is drafted to fight in a war. A year or so later, Mak and Nak are reunited. The townspeople try to explain to Mak that Nak and their baby are dead. Furious at the thought of being anything coming between her and her beloved, the spirit of Nak haunts and kills some of the neighbors. Not long after this, Mak realizes that he has been living with a ghost, and that he is a ghost himself. The legend of Nak is so popular that there was even an animated version released recently in Thailand. While Nonzee's version, written by Wisit Sasanatieng, is considered to be the best filmed version of this story, Duffield uses the same story as the background in a contemporary setting.
To minimize confusion, the ghost is named Mae Nak. A young man, Mak, and his fiancee, Nak, declare their eternal love for each other. There plans for marriage go unimpeded even though Mak is frequently disturbed by nightmare images of a female ghost with a hole in her head. As is usually the case in these kinds of films, the ghost has some unfinished business requiring some human assistance. What makes The Ghost of Mae Nak better than the usual Thai film is that Duffield treats the material seriously. There are no characters inserted for comic relief, nor does this follow the frequent Thai pattern of punctuating the scares with laughs. There is a certain reverence towards the original legend that makes The Ghost of Mae Nak unexpectedly moving. There is also a twist ending that, while not totally unexpected, still manages to be quite unsettling.
Parts of The Ghost of Mae Nak are devoted to scenic shots of Bangkok. Mak and Nak unknowingly buy the home where the original Mak and Nak lived, the oldest remaining house in Bangkok. While this particular plot point is more unbelievable that the existence of lovelorn ghosts, what concerns Duffield is the persistence of folk beliefs in contemporary Thailand. Even with shiny skyscrapers, the sky train, and all available modern technology, the characters seek solutions with mediums and fortune tellers. For those familiar with Thailand, this makes sense where the miniature "spirit house" is given space with the buildings used by the living.
Posted by peter at May 24, 2008 12:24 AM
Peter, interesting insight into the marketing of "Extreme" movies. So confusing. I forget that there's a layer of distribution for these things. I wonder if it is indeed the Weinsteins who will be picking up the rights to the back catalog, and anything Tartan had in their pipeline, for issue on their Dimension Extreme line?
I want to watch Nonzee's version again. I've never watched this version. I didn't bother when it was in cinemas back in 2005, and then I've never read a review of it that made any sense.
So now I'm actually interested in checking this out sometime.
The cartoon Nak was pretty wacky. It had nothing to do with the original legend. It was just a spin on the character, turning her and all the other Thai ghosts into candy colored folk heroes.
I'm amazed you got this from the library. But then again I shouldn't be so surprised. In my home state of Illinois, all the libraries were networked. If my hometown library didn't have an item, they could obtain it from another city library. It was pretty neat how that worked. I could get anything, though it might take a couple of weeks. Sometimes wish I were around to take advantage of it today.
Posted by: Curtis at May 24, 2008 07:13 AM
I hadn't heard the news about Tartan USA. I agree...it's very sad. I just started making my way through their Extreme series (started with Wishing Stairs and Face).
Posted by: Dave B. at May 24, 2008 09:49 AM