Published on December 12, 2007
Released within a week of each other, the colourful comedy "Amazing Ponglang Theatre" and the dourly dramatic thriller "The Screen at Kamchanod" take very different approaches to the subject of cinemas haunted by ghosts. But they share one thing: Neither makes very much sense.
Released on November 29, "Amazing Ponglang" is the ostensible star vehicle for the Ponglang Sa-on country music comedy trio. As a comedy, it doesn't have to make sense, but a concept that seems to have been lost on director Rergchai Paungpetch is if you're going to have a talented group of singers and dancers in your movie, you should let them sing and dance. After 90 minutes of flatulence gags, racist insults and slapstick pratfalls, the trio finally gets to put on a show to close out the film.
"The Screen at Kamchanod", released on December 5, was probably never intended to make any sense either. It has some decent scares and some neat-o imagery, but still left me sitting there after the credits rolled going "huh?"
But I was probably the only one who gave it any thought at all. For both films, I had opposite reactions to the audiences. In "Amazing Ponglang", while people were busting a gut laughing at scatalogical humour, severed tongues and barbs about flat noses and dark skin, I was mortified. In "Kamchanod", while the audience was screaming their lungs out, I was laughing incessantly.
Both films are steeped in movie-going nostalgia. RS Film's "Amazing Ponglang Theatre" is set in an old-time Bangkok movie palace. Ponglang Sa-on frontman Somphong "Eed" Khunaprathom portrays To, the nephew of the cinema's owner. The cinema is old and shows old movies (all from RS Film, of course), but probably the main reason there are no customers is that the place is haunted. The only people who turn up to watch films are an odd quartet of ghosts. To wants to sell the cinema, be rid of the ghosts and move on with his life. He sees hope for all that in real-estate agent Ploy (Visa Sarasas), but the pretty ethnic Chinese beauty has no interest in the diminutive To, and is pining over her missing boyfriend, Win (Kavi Tanchararak - Beam of the boy band D2B), who is a taxi driver and just happens to be hanging around the cinema.
"Amazing" takes the scattergun approach typical of Thai comedy films, throwing in joke after joke, and lots of screaming and running around, without ever really sticking to an actual storyline. After funny bits that do nothing to advance the plot, the last 30 minutes of the film move at a frenzied pace to tie up loose ends and send everyone home happy. The ghosts are largely forgotten about, as is the fact that Ponglang Sa-on is in the film.
Five Star Production's "The Screen at Kamchanod" is supposedly based on a true story that took place in 1987 in Udon Thani, when an outdoor film screening was booked at the Kamchanod forest preserve. The projection crew rolled the film, but there was no audience, until near the end, when some ghosts came out of nowhere to view the film.
Now, the big question is: what film was it? But that is never answered in "The Screen". It appears to be some kind of art film. So while Thai people, in the words of cultural minder Ladda Tangsupachai, just want a laugh, Thai ghosts appear to appreciate the cerebral, non-linear work of the likes of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Go figure.
"The Screen at Kamchanod" deals with the obsession of a young doctor, Yuth (Ashita Pramoj Na Ayutthaya), who wants to find out the mystery behind this screening. With his wife, nurse Orn (Pakaramai Potranan), and journalist friends Ji (Ongart Jiamjaroenpornkul) and Phann (Pornpimol Hoonthongkam), and a neighbourhood street hood Roj (Namo Tongkumnerd), the doctor tracks down the film and arranges a screening in what appears to be
the same old-time Bangkok
movie palace used in "Amazing Ponglang Theatre". Soon after, all
the members of the group are seeing dead people.
Directed by Songsak Mongkolthong, a former assistant director under the Pang Brothers, "The Screen" has its fair share of scares. What's really cool is when the horror action seems to cross the threshold between the world of the film and the world of real-life audiences, with a ghost appearing to grab the sides of the screen and try to shove it aside to escape. Who knows, maybe there really are some ghosts lurking about at Major Cineplex Central Bangna?
Mainly, "The Screen" is a psychological thriller, probing the mystery of Dr Yuth himself, and the jealousy that comes to the fore as his emotionally traumatised wife seeks solace in the company of the stoner Roj. His obsession drags everyone and everything down. There is one bright spot through it all: In a brief scene where Dr Yuth and his wacky gang of ghostbusters are investigating an outdoor screening for clues, the movie being shown is Wisit Sasanatieng's "The Unseeble" - a film I'd really like to see again.