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Saturday, October 17, 2009

"P" -- DVD review by porfle

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, especially if the subject is witchcraft. In the Thai horror film "P" (2005), a backwoods village girl named Aaw is taught the ways of magic by her aging grandmother, but unfortunately for her, she pays more attention to the "do's" than she does to the "don'ts." And when she starts practicing magic on her own, those don'ts get her in a bloody heap o' trouble.

The naive, innocent Aaw is thrust into the sinful and decadent world of Bangkok go-go bars when she must earn money to pay for her ailing grandmother's medicine. The timid girl, renamed Dau by her new boss Mamasang, soon discovers that pole-dancing isn't her only occupation when a wealthy foreigner (director Spurrier) takes her to his hotel room and helps himself to her virginity. Dau's sympathetic roommate Pookie (Opal) shows her the ropes while diva-ish May (Narisara Sairatanee) and her snarky friends New and Mee develop an instant dislike for the country girl.

Growing jealous of May, Dau begins to use her magic to make herself more desirable. When May sabotages Dau's attempt to become a featured dancer, Dau casts a spell on her that has horrifying results. While continuing to use her powers unwisely, she also manages to inadvertently break the three cardinal rules of witchcraft, leaving her vulnerable to invasion by an evil spirit. When this occurs, Dau is transformed into a vile creature of unspeakable evil who prowls the night feasting on the flesh and blood of her victims. While New and Mee frantically seek the help of a boozed-up old witch doctor to protect them, Pookie tries to cure Dau of her affliction herself but may end up as her next meal instead.

A fascination with both Thai ghost legend and the Bangkok go-go bar scene prompted writer-director Paul Spurrier to become the first Westerner ever to direct a Thai film. Beautifully shot in Cinemascope, the lighting and cinematography are meticulous and Spurrier's direction is stylish but low-key. The story is deliberately-paced and only gradually works its way into real horror territory--without the supernatural elements, much of it would work simply as a borderline soft-porn portrait of a young girl's transformation from a timid waif into a calculating exhibitionist selling herself for money. (Sort of like an art house version of SHOWGIRLS or STRIPTEASE.) But this aspect of Dau's saga becomes the slow-burning fuse that will ignite a series of chilling supernatural setpieces.

By modern standards, the carnage is relatively restrained and much is suggested rather than explicitly shown. Spurrier isn't out to gut-punch us with gore but would rather give us an extreme case of the creeps, which he succeeds in doing pretty well. Although I've seen scarier Asian fright films that affected me a lot more deeply, the ghost-possessed Dau is a pretty memorable horror character. There are the usual jack-in-the-box jump scares, in addition to several spooky images such as the glowing-eyed Dau floating after a fleeing victim or lurking on a shadowy ceiling like a spider. Spurrier's original score adds to the effectiveness of these scenes.

First-time actress Suangporn Jaturaphut, who was only seventeen at the time, gives a solid performance as Dau and is convincing in each stage of the character. Opal is funny and endearing as the flighty go-go bar veteran Pookie, with whom we begin to sympathize more and more as she risks her own life to help Dau. Spurrier and his friend Dean Barrett, an unabashed fan of the Bangkok go-go bar scene in real life, ably portray a couple of typical rich, horny customers--the latter is featured in a grinning, hairy-shouldered closeup from the reclining Dau's POV that is one of the film's most unsettling images.

The DVD from Palisades Tartan Asia Extreme has an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo sound. Language is the original Thai with English subtitles. Director Spurrier offers an intimate and informative commentary track. There's a very brief "Behind the Scenes" clip, production photos, the theatrical trailer and teaser, and a featurette, "Soi Cowboy Go-Go Bars", in which host Dean Barrett gives us a tour of some of his favorite carnal nightspots. A music video for Underground's awesome end credits song "Rawang" features a slow, sensuous dance by Suangporn Jaturaphut as "Dau", interspersed with scenes from the movie. I prefer the actual end credits version in which the hypnotically gorgeous dance sequence plays uninterrupted.

With its story of a young witch coming to the big city to ply a new trade while learning to develop her supernatural powers (only to find them going distressingly awry), "P" is almost like a shadowy flipside to KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE. But more than that, it's also a deliciously dark and erotic visual confection that should have your blood running hot and cold at the same time.

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1 comment:

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