Bangkok Haunted (2001) DVD review
This 2001 trio of tales from Thailand is one of the lesser ghostly emanations to materialize in the funeral wake of RING, the film that launched a decade’s worth of Asian horror films, not to mention numerous Americanized remakes. Directed by Pisut Praesangeam and Oxide Pang (one half of the Pang Brothers, who made 2002’s THE EYE), BANGKOK HAUNTED features plenty of flashy technique but little real style; the usual spooky notes are played with reasonable competence, but they never tie together into a coherent or memorable composition.
There is a slightly slap-dash feel to the production, as if it were thrown together without being fully thought through. Narrative clarity is not always a priority: Praesangeam’s screenplay, abetted by confusing cross-cutting, often leaves the viewer wondering exactly what is happening. The confusion begins immediately: the film begins its first episode without preamble or wrap-around device; only after “Legend of the Drum” has concluded do we see that we are listening to three Thai women trading ghost stories in a coffee shop.
Why wait till now to reveal the framing device? Don’t bother asking because you won’t get an explanation. In fact, the dialogue among the three female friends serves less to unite the three stories than to offer apologies for their weaknesses, as the women criticize each other for not knowing how to tell a good story. Sadly, the criticism is all too justified.
“Legend of the Drum” involves a young woman investigating an artifact with a haunted history, involving the disappearance of a beautiful woman and the disfigured man who adored her – until she spurned him for a more handsome rival. Although interesting, the story intercuts past and present to occasionally confusing effect, as the drum’s current owner feels the spiritual fall-out of the tragic tale associated with the object. The ending suggests reincarnation as the explanation linking past and present, with a surprise finish that is only slightly scary and not particularly satisfying (as the teller’s two friends will complain, in the wrap-around segment).
Part Two is “Corpse Oil,” about a woman whose neighbor offers her a potion guaranteed to stir the passion of any man she sets her eyes on. The first problem with the story is that the woman in question is a smokin’ hot babe who obviously doesn’t need any potions to work magic on men (early on, she is seen rubbing her body against a stranger on a crowded boat ride, which should have been more than enough to get his attention). The second problem is, as you can probably guess, that potions of this kind come with a dark secret and/or a terrible price. And if you can’t figure out the secret, then you’ve simply haven’t read the title of the episode. Basically, this story is less about horror than about club-hopping and one-night stands, with the occasional pale-faced mystery girl showing up to creepy if confusing effect (presumably the ghost of the corpse who provided the titular “oil”).
“Revenge,” the final tale – and the only one directed by Pang – breaks with its predecessors by telling a story fousing on a cop rather than one of the three women. A young policeman investigates a mysterious death that his superior has deemed a suicide. The investigation is not particularly scintillating, and the pace is lethargic (fast-forwarding at double speed improves things considerably). There is a decent LEAVE HER TO HEAVE-type twist ending, which involves a reasonably clever method for confusing the homicide-suicide issue, but the supposedly wrenching impact of the final revelations packs no emotional punch; it’s just an arbitrary twist designed to offer a surprise to an otherwise flat story. The supernatural elements are almost nil, just the occasional hint of a ghostly presence following the detective; the ghost seems shoe-horned into the script in order to justify including this story in an anthology containing the word “haunted” in the title.
The final segment offers yet another spooky twist, but rather than “Oh my god!” you’re reaction is likely to be “What’s the point?” The film ends on a nice, creepy image, but it comes so far out of left field that the impact is minimal, and you wish the filmmakers had saved it for another film, where it might actually fit.
At least on DVD, BANGKOK HAUNTED tends to look dark and murky throughout. The modern setting is sheathed in noir stylings that make the intrusion of supernatural elements more credible, but there is a certain monotony to the approach, which even the presence of two different directors cannot overcome. The ghostly manifestations are reasonably well realized, and the film does offer its share of shuddery moments. The problem is that, spread over a two-hour-plus running time, these are not nearly enough to compensate for the slack pacing and uninvolving narratives.
The Region 1 DVD from Unit World Movie Inc offers the original Thai audio, with options for English or Chinese subtitles. The Chapter Stops sub-menu offers only three chapters, one for each episode, even though the the film is actually divided into 12 chapters (you can advance to the others manually by using your remote).
There is also a “Special Feature,” a short promotional film that begins like an extended trailer before shifting into pseudo-documentary mode, claiming that BANGKOK HAUNTED intends to offer an answer to the mystery of whether life-after-death exists. (At least, I think that’s what it’s saying – the subtitles are embarrassingly non-grammatical.) Finally, the featurette shifts toward traditional EPK mode, with the filmmakers discussing the the film and describing their attempt to forge a new approach to depicting the supernatural on screen.
Ultimately, BANGKOK HAUNTED is for hardcore fans who have seen all the great examples of the last decade’s worth of great Asian horror films and are still yearning for more. Undemanding fans of the form may be mildly entertained; everyone else will wish they had watched RINGU or THE EYE again.
BANGKOK HAUNTED (2001). Directed by Pisut Praesangeam and Oxide Pang. Written by Pisut Praesangeam. Cast: Pimsiree Pimsee, Pramote Seangsorn, Dawan Singha-Wee, Kalyanut Sirboonreung, Pete Thong-Jeur.
This article has been expanded and clarified since initial publication.