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September 03, 2009

Spirited Killer

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Plook Mun Kuen Ma Kah 4
Towatchai Ladloy - 1994
BCI Region 1 DVD

The only reason to see Spirited Killer is for the film debut of Panom Yeerum. Almost twelve years later, this eighteen year old actor would be know throughout the world as Tony Jaa. There isn't really much to see, except that one gets a glimpse of the athletic ability that would be showcased in Ong Bak. The man Panom is seen dueling with is his teacher, Panna Rittikrai.

Ong Bak 2 is scheduled for a VOD release near the end of this month, to be followed by a theatrical release in October. To see both films is something of a study in contrasts in the changes made in the Thai industry in the past fifteen years. Spirited Killer was made on a much lower budget, and was made primarily for a Thai audience, perhaps seen in some neighboring Asian countries. There isn't much of a story - a doctor, a practitioner of black magic, performs a prayer ritual, and offers a handful of people a special concoction that will change their lives. From the lay person's point of view, the people have been poisoned, but the doctor insists that they've achieved immortality. The doctor proves to be expert at boxing and sword-fighting, but one witness gets away. The doctor is chased away by some angry villagers, seemingly lost in a river after being stabbed multiple times. Five years later, a stranger appears, primarily glaring at everyone, before getting down to business with his sword. A group of Japanese students show up, in search of some rare relics, but are in the film mostly to provide lame comic relief. The villagers and the students try to find a way to defeat the mystery man causing havoc in the remote community. Spirited Killer has some of the same weaknesses of Thai films made in the past few years. This is a film that frankly was made for an unsophisticated audience that was looking for lots of action, a some dumb laughs.

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The future Tony Jaa is showcased at about the forty-one minute mark. Even back in 1994 it was obvious that this young man had a special relationship with gravity. I'm probably not the only one who considers martial arts movies as musicals for guys who wouldn't be caught dead watching watching a musical. That may be exaggerating a bit, but those who carefully read the credits or know a thing or two about the craft of filmmaking know that the fights are choreographed. And in a couple of shots in this smeary transfer, one can see just Tony Jaa taking flight with a couple of leaps, somersaulting in midair. That Tony is able to do his stunts without wires makes him more fantastic to watch.

While this is not a musical, there is a musical number where one of the actresses breaks out in song, but no dance. Maybe had the lyrics been translated, I might have understood the meaning of this song in the early part of the film. It would perhaps be helpful if the actress who plays the character Fah could be identified. Nonetheless, this interlude is one of the few bright spots in a film that has a negligible plot about an unstoppable killer, and alleged comedy mostly involving a mute named Mute and a short, stocky man with an electric fan.

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Posted by peter at September 3, 2009 12:03 AM