Celebrating 10 Years of Screening Southeast Asian Cinema 2004-2014
Wednesday, April 29 at 6:30pm
Center for Korean Studies Auditorium
Thailand (2013, 115 min)
Thai w/English subtitles
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Screenwriters: Chantavit Dhanasevi, Nontra Kumwong, Banjong Pisanthanakun
Cast: Mario Maurer (as Mak), Davika Hoorne (as Nak), Nattapong Chartpong
(as Ter), Pongsatorn Jongwilak (as Puak), Wiwat Kongrasri (as Shin),
Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk (as Aey), Sean Jindachot (as Ping)
Re-inventing a classic Thai ghost story into a goofball comedy romance, seasoned director Banjong Pisanthanakun (Shutter and Alone). has scored a huge box office hit in his native Thailand. Pee Mak Phrakanong (or simply Pee Mak) is a playful, often anachronistic retelling of the famous Thai ghost story, Mae Nak Phra Kanong (Lady Nak of Phra Kanong). Set roughly 100 years ago, during the turbulent Rattanakosin Kingdom era, a young man, Mak (Mario Maurer), is sent off to war, leaving behind his beautiful pregnant wife, Nak (Davika Hoorne). While Mak is away fighting, Nak and her baby die during childbirth. Mak is wounded but vows to make it home alive. On his return, Mak discovers his wife and child waiting for him, and he refuses to listen to the villagers who try to inform him he is living with a ghost.
In this regard, this new version of the story is true to its classical roots, however director Pisanthanakun’s take on the story differs by the inclusion of Mak’s four wise-cracking war buddies. Almost all of the film’s laughs come from Nattapong Chartpong, Pongsatorn Jongwilak, Wiwat Kongrasri and Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk as Pisanthanakun’s foursome of likely lads. The bulk of the film’s 115-minute runtime is spent following them as they run, scream, fall, cower and pratfall their way through the movie, trying in vain to warn their friend of his supernatural predicament. The film repeatedly plays with audience preconceptions, teasing us with the possibility that one or more characters may also be dead already. In the film’s opening scenes, Mak and his friends are all shot at and seriously wounded, before swearing they will make it home not matter what. Exactly who has accomplished that task successfully is played with throughout the film, feeding the foursome with plenty of opportunities to accuse, suspect, run away from and even turn on each other in their desperate efforts to survive.
That said, after enduring a number of recent Thai horror films without much gratification for my trouble, Pee Mak makes for a refreshing and enjoyable experience. It is never scary, but it is frequently laugh-out-loud funny and populated by characters who for the most part, we actually care about. The film is quintessentially Thai, riffing on historically significant cultural touchpoints, while shooting squarely for a modern, contemporary crowd pleaser and hitting its mark dead on. If you want a perfect signifier for where Thailand’s film industry is at right now, Pee Mak Phrakanong is it. -James Marsh, Twitch
The CSEAS Film Series is hosted by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, in support of the course ASAN 491G Cinema of Southeast Asia. Partial funding to purchase the films comes from the U.S. Dept. of Education and generous contributions from our loyal film fans.
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