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December 21, 2010

Meat Grinder

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Cheuuat gaawn chim
Tiwa Moeithaisong - 2009
My Way Films Region 3 DVD

While it remains without a U.S. distributor, those inclined in the San Francisco area were able to see Meat Grinder as part of a series of horror films under the collective title of "Go to Hell for the Holidays". As exploitation ready as the English title is, the film may be so artistic in its, ahem, execution, that it virtually neutralizes the horror. Tiwa not only directed his film, but served as his own cinematographer and editor. It is also worth noting that Tiwa's other credit for last year was cinematography for the Muay Thai movie, Raging Phoenix, the best part of that film.

Even in Thailand, the release of Meat Grinder was almost as tortured as what Mai Charoenpura does to her victims. According to Bangkok based Wise Kwai, Meat Grinder was almost banned for allegedly making all street noodle vendors appear suspect. My own theory is that certain people in power in Thailand were more concerned about a scene where the title character, Buss, is caught in a riot. A large mob of people are chased down a street by soldiers. Tiwa pointedly has all of the civilians wearing white shirts, rather than red or yellow shirts that have been used to designate political affiliations in Thailand. And there is never any explanation as to why the soldiers are chasing the people. But I would think that even if it wasn't admitted by anyone who was part of any Thai cultural agency, there would be discomfort regarding the depiction of civil unrest, almost anticipating events that occurred following the release of Meat Grinder. According the Wise Kwai, Meat Grinder takes place in the 1970s, with the riot victims being students. Perhaps I am not being very observant as the Thailand I see in the film wasn't markedly different from the place I visited four years ago.

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The scene of the riot is important not simply as a dramatic device to bring Buss together with a young man, Attapon. Meat Grinder might be understood as a critique of power, and not just that of one country or culture. While the civilian populace is threatened by the power of the army, working at the behest of the government, on a more personal level, Meat Grinder also looks at expressions of male power and sense of privilege. The idea of the use and abuse of power is also echoed in a couple scenes with the police, where guilt is assumed unless innocence is proven. Through a series of flashbacks, it is understood that Buss has been in an abusive relationship with her husband, and perhaps her step-father. A trio of thugs attempt to force Buss to pay off her husband's gambling debts. There is are scenes also of Buss punished by her mother, with Buss repeating the punishment on her own daughter. Seemingly the one honorable man in her life, Attapon shows that like the other men Buss has known, he is incapable of fidelity. The contempt Buss has for men is best shown in the beginning when she cuts off the leg of a victim right at the knee, and flings the detached appendage back in his face.

Tiwa switches between black and white and color, with most of the flashbacks in monochrome. At one point we see young Buss in a flashback, the only color being a real bucket of blood poured over her. The wide strips of plastic that divide the space where the meat is prepared is covered with flecks of blood. Meat Grinder is visually full of rough surfaces. The blades appear all orange with rust. With the exception of the gleaming white shirts of the riot scene, everything else in Meat Grinder looks worn and dirty. Often Tiwa uses extreme close ups, or frames people in such a way that the sex and violence are not clearly visible. Using a Thai pop song titled "Fascination" during one of the scenes of dismemberment, and music that sounds very much like that used for Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love, Tiwa's plays against the notion of a romantic past. While some of the gorier elements, as well as the vigilante sense of justice, recalls Sweeney Todd, the disposal of the victims should also remind some of Alfred Hitchcock's television version of Lamb for the Slaughter, with its police detectives unknowingly eating the victim.

Between the performance of the star, and the look of the the film, it is little surprise that Meat Grinder received Subhanahongsa Award nomination for Best Actress for Mai and Best Art Direction, the Thai equivalent to Oscar nominations. Along with Slice, still sadly unavailable as a subtitled DVD, Meat Grinder appears to be one of the last of a series of artistically expressive Thai horror films. This may be the effect of the unevenly applied new film ratings coupled with the fact that several films have been deemed unacceptable for Thai audiences, even with a restriction for adults only. There is still the periodic horror film, but little that has earned significant critical acclaim, with English language DVD availability not always certain. Meat Grinder has been marketed, not unexpectedly, for gorehounds, but offers more that the spectacle of lopped of fingers and slashed throats. Hopefully the multi hyphenate Tiwa will be able to make the kind of film that will force the serious critical community to pay attention to his talents.

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Posted by peter at December 21, 2010 08:36 AM