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September 26, 2013


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Nattawut Poonpiriya - 2012
Cai Chang International Region 3 DVD

Normally, my coverage of anything related to the Academy Awards is minimal. That's not going to change. I was planning on writing about Countdown around New Year's Eve, when this film takes place, but with the news that this film will be Thailand's entry for Foreign Language Film, I decided that coverage should be sooner rather than later.

What's surprising is that this film is Thailand's entry. Instead of a costume drama taking place in the past, or something arty, we have a contemporary horror movie. It isn't even a ghost movie, or at least in any way that connects with traditions in Thai horror films, although some of what happens can be described as uncanny. Countdown doesn't even take place in Thailand, but mostly inside an apartment in New York City.

Three young Thais, Jack, Bee and Pam, who share the aforementioned apartment, want to score some marijuana for New Year's Eve. Their regular connection has gone straight, but has a card for a dealer named Jesus. Showing up at the appointed hour, Jesus (pronounced Hey-zoos) is a bit too friendly and a bit too curious about the three friends. Stories are told about killing a fat girl who bursts out of a closet, wearing a bikini, and disciplining a dog by removing his teach with a pair of pliers. The stories are outlandish, and couldn't possibly be real. And then all hell breaks loose.

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There is a curious mix of discussions of Buddhism with Christian imagery, not the least of which is in the name and physical appearance of this film's Jesus. There is also a scene in a church, where Bee sits in a confessional to escape the wind. I am not quite sure of what Nattawut's message is, other than it has to do with Buddhist mindfulness, filial piety and not spending money wastefully. Maybe all of the theological concerns are just so much window dressing for a rant about spoiled college aged kids from wealthy families. There are some exterior shots that were filmed on location, although English is the second language of all of the actors with speaking parts, creating an extra layer of cultural distance.

Genre fans may enjoy the scenes of Jesus terrorizing the three friends, often just by being an intimidating presence in their lives. There is one superb moment when Bee tries to escape from Jesus. Fleeing to the elevator, a button falls out, and the elevator stops with the door refusing to open. From the hole that held the button, a cockroach appears, and then another, and more, until Bee finds herself screaming in that small, enclosed space, with hundreds of roaches.

Countdown was one of the five films nominated for Thailand National Film Association Awards, Thailand's equivalent to the Oscars. The film won awards for Best Actor - David Asavanond, who played Jesus, Panayu Khunwallee for editing, and Nattawut for his screenplay. Nattawut was also nominated for Best Director, while Thanawutthi Busamsai was nominated for make-up. Jarinporn Joonkiat deservedly was nominated for Best Actress for her performance as Bee. Mostly because of genre prejudices as well as the fact that this is in no way a "lovable" movie, I doubt Countdown will get through the first round of voting by Academy members. The film will be available on Region 1 DVD sometime next year. Even as a violent thriller, Countdown is not in the same league as a film like Silence of the Lambs. Be that as it may, the Thai Film Association periodically makes some baffling choices, so I do appreciate that this year's Oscar entry is both a critical and commercial hit.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 26, 2013 08:15 AM