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August 18, 2009

Demon Warriors

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Opapatika
Thanakorn Pongsuwan - 2007
Magnolia Films Region 1 DVD

Let us give thanks to Tony Jaa, without whom even fewer Thai films might be available on U.S. DVDs. Demon Warriors is produced by the same company that brought the world Ong-Bak and Chocolate. I have to assume that the price for bringing Tony Jaa and Jeeja to U.S. viewers is to include the rest of the productions slate from Thailand's most successful film producer.

Demon Warriors is a film about faith. It's about a filmmaker's faith that the viewer will not mind the plot holes and lapses of logic, and instead succumb to the visceral pleasures of gorgeous cinematography and a mostly handsome cast of characters. Maybe the best way to approach this film is to liken it to a dream that is propelled by its own internal coherence, intuition if you will. What I am certain about is that Dream Warriors is a singular kind of genre bender, maybe the ultimate Bruce Willis film without Bruce Willis, in other words, the action of the Die Hard movies, with the dead spirits among the living of The Six Sense. Even when the film pauses for some quasi-Buddhist philosophizing on life and death, it somehow works within the context of the film, and is less pretentious than it sounds.

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If I try to describe the plot or explain the story, my own head will probably explode. Suffice to say that it's about characters called opapatika who exist as good or evil spirits. The hunt is on for four of the evil spirits who seem to live to kill other people. A new opapatika, Techit, seeking to understand the mysteries of human existence, finds that he has the ability to read minds, but also finds himself losing his other senses. Techit is given the task of seeking out the evil opapatika on behalf of an elder who keeps his own special power a secret. There's lots of fire power, long knives, some Muay Thai action, lopped off heads and hands, and spurting blood. What isn't explained is how one goes about killing somebody who is suppose to be immortal.

There was a reminder of Werner Herzog's version of Nosferatu, when one of the characters states that eternal life isn't all it's cracked up to be. Basic Buddhism is discussed during the quieter moments, so that it is understood that the characters, by no longer being human, are trapped by their own karma, unable to change. This is a Thai film intended primarily for a Thai audience, with a few words of wisdom at the end about the perpetual state of Hell that is in store for those who commit suicide.

What makes Demon Warriors intriguing to watch are the images of Leo Putt with his golden gun and tinted aviator glasses, Kemapsorn Sirisukha wandering around in a white dress, and Shahkrit Yamnarm with his two differently colored eyes and scarred face. Much of the action takes place in what appears to be the most rundown sections of Bangkok, in abandoned buildings and depopulated streets.

Thanakorn Pongsuwan is a filmmaker I am mostly familiar with by reputation, with his current film, Fireball appearing in several film festivals. A film about a sport that combines Thai martial arts with baseketball, Fireball would indicate that Thanakorn is interested in unexpected combinations of elements in his films. Prior to taking the director's chair, Thanakorn was a production assistant to the Pang Brothers, also noted for their use of compelling images, more than the logic of their narratives. Taken on its own terms, Demon Warriors might be best understood as a dream about Buddhism, karma, and the value of life. And like all dreams, it's about the senses, not about sense.

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Posted by peter at August 18, 2009 12:06 AM