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March 30, 2009

Philadelphia Film Festival 2009: 4bia

4bia 1.jpg

See Prang
Youngyooth Thongkonthun, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom, and Paween Purikitpanya - 2008
GTH 35mm film

Once you get past the pun on the word "phobia", 4bia is a fairly straight-forward collection of four short Thai ghost stories. The stories could be viewed separately, although the sharp eyed viewer is advised that each story has a connection either to characters in varying chronological order. These stories were made primarily for a young Thai audience that has grown up with the culture of a belief in ghosts and the ghost movie genre. Ideally, as in Thailand, this is the kind of film that should be seen in a theater with lots of screaming teenagers.

The first story, Happiness, is about a young woman, Pin, stuck in her apartment while her broken leg is still in a cast. One hundred days following an accident in a taxi, she has nothing to do except the occasional online chat or text messages. A stranger begins sending text messages. Pin is at first delighted, and then frightened as the person has the ability to know her and what she is doing, even though he remains unseen. Writer-director Youngyooth Thongkonthun is best known to western audiences for his two Iron Ladies films, about a gender bending volleyball team. There is no comedy here, but Youngyooth creates a sense of poignancy in his story about loneliness.

4BIA 2.jpg

Tit for Tat reminded me of the first Thai film I saw in Thailand, Letters of Death, only shorter and better. Paween Purikitpanya's story is about the bullied high school boy who get revenge. It's the most graphic of the four films, perhaps not surprising as Paween is best known for his feature, Body #19. The mayhem is familiar, death by spontaneous combustion, large steel rods, or seemingly secured large objects that fall on top of the hapless victim. There is a delicious plot twist when one of the girls who witnessed the bullying is left alone at a police station room. I'm not sure if it was intended, but without giving too much away, the end reminded me of the apocryphal ending for one of Roger Corman's films. Bloody fun? Hell, yes.

The second two segments were written and directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, known for their collaborative efforts on Shutter and Alone. Banjong's In the Middle is about four young men on a rafting trip. One tells the other three about a camper sighting a female ghost while camping in the jungle. Jokes are told about haunting each other should one of them dies while on their excursion. The next day, the raft overturns, with Aey rescuing a drowning, panic stricken Ter. Aey seems to have disappeared into the water only to return cold and wet the next day. Banjong's story has the characters telling each other plot points from other films such as The Sixth Sense and Titanic, playing both with the genre of the Thai ghost story and popular films involving either ghosts, death by drowning or both. Additionally, Banjong also has fun with both the characters and the audiences familiarity with the films and genre expectations.

One last verbal pun is found in giving Parkpoom Wongpoom's episode the title, Last Fright. The story is about a stewardess who is requested to serve on the flight of a princess from a Middle Eastern country. The stewardess, Pim, had been on the flight the princess had previously taken when she visited Thailand with her husband, a prince who has since divorced her. The only passenger, the princess proves to be extremely demanding. The relationship between the two women is eventually revealed. Let me only say that Pim and the princess are together on a second flight, as before the only people in the passenger section of the plane, on a flight some of us would find scary enough with the plane bobbing about amidst turbulence in the dark. Parkpoom builds on the suspense of being in an enclosed space, with no way to escape. If their solo work is any indication, it would appear that Banjong was the primary author of Shutter with a story about a group of haunted young men, while Parkpoom is more interested in women in peril, inadvertently of their own making.

4bia has been both a top commercial hit in Thailand, as well as a critical success. 4bia will screen March 31, April 1 and 3.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 30, 2009 12:43 AM