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April 11, 2013

At the Gate of the Ghost

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U Mong Pa Meung
Bhandevanop Devakula - 2011
Magnolia Home Entertainment Region 1 DVD

I do consider it something of a small miracle that when a new Thai movie gets any kind of U.S. release, it is neither focussed on ghosts or kickboxing. Even if one has seen Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, it should be of interest to see a new interpretation of the stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa that provided the original basis for that film. Kurosawa's film also provided the inspiration for the Thai play by Kukrit Pramoj from 1973, one of at least three different theatrical productions noted. Further complicating things here is that the original English language title for the Thai film is The Outrage, which was the title use for the Hollywood remake from 1964, a western with Paul Newman in the Toshiro Mifune role. Not only did Martin Ritt's film acknowledge it's debt to Akutagawa and Kurosawa, but Ritt's screenplay was by Michael Kanin, who with Fay Kanin, wrote their own theatrical version produced in 1959. It's almost a self-commentary that there would be several versions of Rashomon.

Bhandevanop "Mom Noi" Devakula places the story in 16th Century Siam. The framing story is of a young Buddhist monk, considering leaving the priesthood, stopping for shelter in the rain in a tunnel that appears to have served as a temple. He is with a woodsman. Both have acted as witnesses for the murder trial of the bandit accused of murdering a warlord. While there is the same acknowledgment that perhaps no one is telling the truth about rape of wife, or the death of the husband, from a Buddhist perspective there is also a sense of forgiveness for human frailty.

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Visually, Mom Noi takes hints from Thai painting, dance and drama. One of the most striking scenes is of the medium who relays the dead warlord's story. With white make-up, blacked out teeth, and exaggerated movements, singer Radklao Amartisha personifies the most extreme stylization in the film. Whether such a character is historically accurate or not doesn't matter. Within the context of this film, it works.

For those familiar with current Thai cinema, Mom Noi has assembled several big names, notably Mario Maurer as the monk and Ananda Everingham as the warlord. Most surprising is the inclusion of popular comic star Petthai Wongkamlao as the woodsman. Anyone who has seen either of the Thai Bodyguard movies or recalls his supporting roles with Tony Jaa will understand what a shift this is for the performer best known for his rude, and very funny, comedy. Chermarn Boonyasak, one of the few steadily working Thai actresses, plays the warlord's wife. Dom Hetrakul, best known primarily for supporting roles, most recently in Bangkok Revenge which I covered a few weeks ago, plays the bandit, that is to say, the Toshiro Mifune part.

The Thai title translates as "Tunnel in the Cliff". The location shooting was done in northern Thailand. with much of the action near a sensuous waterfall. At the Gate of the Ghost might not have the kind of impact that Rashomon had when it was released over sixty years ago, but more than many remakes, is worth investigating for the reworking of a now classic story.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 11, 2013 07:53 AM


Wasn't this released as "the Outrage"? I remember watching it at a small Thai film festival in London last year.

Posted by: PapushiSun at April 14, 2013 07:46 AM

Yes. As noted in the first paragraph.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at April 14, 2013 10:31 AM