Thursday, August 14, 2008

4bia / Phobia (สี่แพร่ง)

4bia finally makes its Singapore debut today, hot off winning the Bronze Award at Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. It's a collection of 4 horror shorts by upcoming (or should I already say established) talents in the Thai horror genre, with each short helmed by a different director, having their individual flair and skill thrown in to provide the audience with a mixture of flavours, injecting action, comedy, and classic ghouls and spirits coupled with special effects, to keep each short distinct from one another, yet working so well to entertain as a whole.

Sometimes with an anthology, there are bound to be some portions which would let down the rest, but with 4bia, I guess everyone managed to up their ante, especially when you have in your stable, the likes of Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoon of Shutter and Alone fame, though for this project, we see them work individually instead of the usual collaborative effort. It's pretty amazing that in every story, it still managed to take its time to gradually build everything up into a crescendo, delivering its payload toward the end in very satisfying climaxes, then bowing out for the next short to take over.

I guess the more conventional way, is to reflect upon the merits of each short on its own. For non-Thai speakers/readers, it might be prudent to know that there are unifying moments within each short which ties it in with the rest, however, these were lost in translation, so do pay close attention to things like news reports, ticker scrollers across television sets, and dialogue where clues are mentioned quite casually.

Happiness - Youngyooth Thongkonthun
Better known for his comedies like Iron Ladies and Metrosexual, Youngyooth's film is sans spoken dialogue. It plays out almost like a silent film, save for an alarming pounding on the door, and how effectively creepy a mobile phone on silent, vibrating mode can be. The score's top notch here, following a pulsating heartbeat that goes in tandem with the character's emotion.

Pin (Maneerat Kham-uan) is a lonely girl who's leg in a cast disallows her to join her friends on vacation. Being left at home, she surfs the internet looking for jobs, until a mysterious SMS message begins a flurry of exchanges which unravels a mystery and wraps itself up nicely to set the benchmark for the other shorts to meet.

It's basically Maneerat's solo act in holding the attention of an audience, and I have to admit that while it starts off real slowly with plenty of repetitiveness in her communicating using SMS, things really start to pick up the pace once you'd start to expect things to go Boo. If you think One Missed Call's ringtone is the call of death aknocking, wait till you experience a phone on vibrating mode, which probably brought on more chills to tingle your spine.

Tit For Tat - Paween Purikitpanya
Those who have watched Paween's Body #19 will now see him tackle Thai black magic. Tit For Tat adapts from a story that's based on a Thai comic book, and the story is fairly standard with a group of delinquents taking it out on a helpless boy whom they thought ratted them out to their teacher for possession of weed. Things naturally go out of hand during their ragging, and you'd bet your last dollar that the victim will turn to none other than black magic to settle the score.

The visuals here adopts the shaky-cam technique and quick cut editing, so for those who get queasy easily, then you might find it difficult to sit through this one. There are plenty of falling from heights as well, and this is the one short that didn't scrimp on visual effects, showing how one can effectively blend special effects together with rather explicit blood and gore to achieve the desired results. The short with the most cast members in it, to of course up the body count.

In The Middle - Banjong Pisanthanakun
Film fans will find no qualms about this short, by one half of the filmmakers of Shutter and Alone, as he cheekily makes references to and spoils a couple of films by having the characters talk about the movie's ending, even his own! I suppose non-film fans, or those who have chalked up a backlog, will raise their arms in protest, so I'd suggest you'd start working on your backlog in order to fully enjoy the inside jokes made.

4 friends go on a camping trip, and as usual, it's staple to swap ghost stories, until one of them foolishly swears that if he were to die, he'll come to haunt whosoever sleeps in the middle of the three remaining. We all know Murphy, and In The Middle became the perfect blend of comedy and horror, making me both laugh and having my hair stand on ends at the same time. It plays on plenty of fears, while not taking itself too seriously when it launches into comedic periods, especially when the happy campers seem to be bumbling their way through to avoid one of their own whom they reckon is actually not alive.

Plenty of fun in this piece with the top notch camaraderie amongst all 4 actors involved, and excellent make up too.

Last Fright - Parkpoom Wongpoon
The title could either play on the mispronunciation of "flight" (since it takes place on an airplane) as "fright", or as a signal that this is going to be the final short of the lot, so if you haven't been scared stiff yet, then this will be your final chance. It's like Red Eye, only that all the action takes place on board a special chartered flight of Golden Star airlines, where a Royal Family princess coming out of a bad relationship, requests to have the same cabin crew team serve her.

Pim (Laila Boonyasak) finds herself the sole inflight attendant to be serving the princess, except that of course there's a reason to everything, as always. But that's not the crux of the story, but when the Princess kicks the bucket and the airlines have to fly her back, then in an empty plane save for the pilots, the body of your enemy and yourself, then expect a whole lot to happen, making it indeed a flight from hell. This particular installment served as a roller coaster of sorts, bringing you to new highs of thrills, and dips at the right moment for you to catch your breath, only to chug on at full speed to reach its plateau during the climax. And this is probably one of the best designed ghouls here with a revolting image that will stick to you even after the credits roll, and it's no help that we're still in the midst of the lunar seventh month!

All in all, 4bia comes highly recommended by me if you enjoy a horror film which has elements of its sub-genres all combined into one, and definitely one of the better horror films (bah, remakes!) to have come out in this part of the world. These 4 directors have definitely shown they are a collaborative force to be reckoned with in the horror genre, and I look forward to more from them, either individually, or as a group!

From LtoR: Actress Maneerat Kham-uan, Director Paween Purikitpanya (Tit For Tat), Director Parkpoom Wongpoon (Last Fright), Actor Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk, Director Banjong Pisanthanakun (In The Middle) and Director Youngyooth Thongkonthun (Happiness)

The following discussion is Spoiler-filled so if you haven't seen the movie, you might want to consider coming back here once you do. You have been warned...

As Youngyooth Thongkonthun had opened the Q&A session this evening, today marked the 1st time the movie is screened in Singapore (the gala was at another hall, sans this interactive session we had in this Blog Aloud sesssion). The concept started from Parkpoom Wongpoon, who has a flight attendant friend who had recounted to him that should a member of the Royal Family pass away, the body has got to be carried back in the cabin, and seated on a passenger seat, rather than to be transported in the cargo hold. This sparked an idea when he was flying back from the Singapore premiere of Alone, but realized it could only be a short film idea. He then put all the filmmakers together, and it took them less than one day to all agree on the concept.

The 4 shorts have elements which link them to one another, and these include the breaking news in a television programme which talks about the mysterious deaths of vocational students, and a mention of the Princess's death in a news bulletin. There are plenty more of such references, but I guess unless you speak/read Thai, most will be lost in translation, or you would probably need to re-watch the movie again, and pay close attention!

Q: Why do you think so many horror films come out of Thailand, is it culturally, or determined by the market?
Banjong: Locally, the Thai film industry makes a lot of comedies, romance, action and of course horror movies, but horror seems to be able to travel well, so it gets to be seen more internationally.

Youngyooth also explained that every country has its own myths and urban legends, and it is not strange if one is to be afraid of the dark, or afraid of ghosts. Paween Purikitpanya paid tribute to J-horror, which helped to open the doors for Asian horror to introduce itself to the world and the international markets and festivals, such as the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Q: Were you afraid during filming, or was filming so fun that it became tough to keep a straight face?
Maneerat: It did feel a little spooky during filming, and the role actually stayed with me two weeks after the shoot was completed!

Q: Were there any strange incidents that happened during production?
Parkpoom: There was nothing supernatural in incidents, except when the producer showed up on set without first telling us! *laughs*
Youngyooth: We did have a set in an abandoned hospital, but nothing happened. Sorry to disappoint with the lack of such incidents to tell you! *laughs*

Q: You had directed M.A.I.D and Metrosexual, which were comedies. Why didn't your segment have comedy in it?
Youngyooth: That's because I joined the team late, and Banjong's segment already had comedy first! We wanted to provide a good mix, so that's why you have action-horror, classic horror, and comedy-horror.

Q: Would you be interested to work outside of Thailand, and in another language, or even remake your own Thai films?
Banjong: Sure I would be interested if there are offers. Both Parkpoom and myself have been offered projects but we wold prefer to want to work on something we are really interested in, and we don't mind if it's in other languages.

Q: Will we see future collaborations like this one in time to come?
Youngyooth: I served as a producer in Body #19 and Alone, so that's some form of collaboration before. I'm not sure of opportunities in the future, but for sure if we have the chance.
Paween: Or maybe if everyone likes the film, we can make 4bia 2!

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