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October 28, 2013

Long Weekend

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Thai teaser poster

Thongsook 13
Taweewat Wantha - 2013
Vicol Entertainment Region 3 DVD

For those who've been following this blog since my time in Chiang Mai, you know that Taweewat is one of my favorite Thai filmmakers. I was convinced by one of the guys working at my favorite legal DVD store to check out SARS War, a zombie horror-comedy that threw in a gigantic man eating snake, a flying vampire baby, while chucking out any sense of propriety or good taste. It's the only film by Taweewat available as a Region 1 DVD, and film I wrote about for someone else's website. I was able to see Taweewat's second film, the equally hilarious The Sperm, on the big screen in Chiang Mai, where I was the only one in the audience.

Thongsook, a young boy, and Nam. a young girl, are two elementary school kids who meet in the infirmary. Thongsook is recovering from a bloody nose from a fight. Nam has an unnamed illness. Thongsook overhears that it is Nam's birthday. Nam won't have any birthday party, but will be watching a television show devoted to the paranormal. Shows like that frighten Thongsook. Proving he's not chicken, he asks his new friend if she would like to see a real ghost. Of course she would. Thongsook removes the special Buddhist amulet he wears, and Nam gets the fright of her life.

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The two remain friends growing up. Nam's other friends just see a guy who is socially inept, and full of nervous tics. Nam's friends decide to spend a night at a house in a remote, uninhabited island. Thongsook finds the way through a carelessly tossed aside map. As it turns out, the island was a place where a ceremony for the Devouring Spirits has been held. The last time the ceremony was held, the spirits filled their bellies. Annoyed that Thongsook has chosen to tag along, mostly to be with Nam, two of the boys lock Thongsook up in a metal cell, the site of the ceremony. With his amulet ripped from his neck, Thongsook finds himself alone and unprotected. Friday the 13th is only a couple of days away . . .

It's not like Taweewat has reinvented the Thai ghost story as much as he gives some familiar tropes some fresh energy and a sense of visual panache. The island is made up of twisted, bare trees, some with various religious beads dangling from the branches. The only life on the island seems to be that of the feral black cats observing the human invaders. The film is beautifully photographed, with a lot of emphasis on shadows and partial visibility. When Taweewat chooses to amp up his pyrotechnical side, there is an abundance of flash cutting, used only for some very specific moments. Visually, this is the equivalent to the kind of rock guitar player who can dazzle with some very quick fingered picking, but also knows when strumming the chords is the most effective way to play.

Admittedly, on the surface, Long Weekend is not the kind of film that would garner any kind of critical respect. The plot doesn't seem to far removed from something like Uwe Boll's House of the Dead. Genre conventions are respected. There is neither parody nor an attempt at deconstruction. There is some humor, and Taweewat and his scriptwriting team play with parts of the narrative, so that the viewer is not entirely sure if what is seen is simply within the mind of Nam. My own feeling is that so many Thai ghost stories are casually dismissed by critics and audience who are unfamiliar with Thai culture. The excellent English language subtitles are by Bangkok Post film critic, Kong Rithdee, by the way. Taweewat may be too idiosyncratic to ever get the kind of commercial success he deserves, but one his own terms, he remains a rewarding filmmaker to watch.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 28, 2013 08:12 AM