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Protector 2 poster

Set 5 years after the events of the first movie, Kham is teaching kids how to communicate to elephants with the help of his beloved Khon who he treats like a brother. He learns through a friend that somebody wants to buy his elephant but he refuses. Kham leaves Khon with his friend whilst he goes to town. When he comes back to his place, his friend has been attacked and his elephant kidnapped once more. Kham goes to the house of the person that wanted to buy Khon only to find he’s been murdered. He’s caught in the house by the dead man’s two nieces who assume that Kham has murdered him. Kham is forced to go on the run from the two women. The real culprit is an organisation headed by a foreign man named LC. They kidnap Kham and ask him to assassinate a politician to bring about a civil war between two countries or Khon will come to some harm. With the help of an Interpol police agent and one of the nieces, Kham sets out to destroy LC and his organisation.

This movie heralds the return of Tony Jaa who went on hiatus for a couple of years and allegedly became a monk (not sure if that’s true or not?). His last movie before he disappeared (Ong Bak 3) was a total disaster. The problem that led to his hiatus was because of a 10 year contract with Samhangkol Film International that Jaa was tied up to. He wanted to do other movies but they weren’t going to allow him to do that. It’s alleged that Jaa had a bit of a breakdown because of this problem so he walked away from everything and waited until the contract had finished. This has now happened which is why he’s back making this movie. The funny thing is Jaa has signed up to the same studio again and they’re the ones behind this movie. I just hope Jaa has asked for some concessions this time with his new contract or the same problems could arise again. Another person returning is female action star Jeeja Yanin. Back in 2012 she shocked her fans when she announced she was pregnant and was going to get married. A movie containing both these Thai action stars you’d hope would be a right cracker but as you’ll see in the review below this movie is a bit of a mixed bag and it doesn’t really deliver.

It’s best for me to tell those that expect this movie to mark a return to form for Tony Jaa to lower their expectations. Trust me, if you do this you won’t be disappointed by what you see. It is nothing like the enjoyable first Protector movie. The biggest problem with this movie is the overuse of CG effects which is really ropey and looks terrible. Gone are the real stunts and proper fights we saw in Jaa’s previous movies. The reliance on third-rate special effects and wirework is shown at its worst in an overlong motorbike/rooftop chase during the first half which at times looks fake and it isn’t even believable. You have to suspend your disbelief watching this sequence. I have no idea why the Thai filmmakers turned their backs on the raw stunts/fights – elements which had made the previous movie so successful.  It seems that Jaa isn’t even fighting at his usual speed during the movie, perhaps he was asked to slow down to accomodate the limited martial arts skills of RZA and Marrese Crump. I did find it strange why they also chose to rip Star Wars lightsaber sounds for one of Jaa’s fights on electrified train tracks. Wonder if George Lucas knows about it?

Protector 2 screenshot

Tony Jaa is just OK in this movie, he is definitely not at his best here. It’s gonna take a movie with a better script to repair his reputation. I was quite pissed off at the treatment of Jeeja Yanin. She is shamefully underused and only pops up now and then to help Jaa’s character out and coupled with the fact that she is made to look weak in certain scenes this really annoyed me. What an opportunity the director had in having two of the hottest Thai martial artists around in his movie and he totally screws it up. The worst actor of all in the whole production is RZA (he of The Man WithThe Iron Fists fame) who doesn’t come up to scratch as the lead villain. He is just terrible and his acting is pathetic in this movie. Couldn’t they have picked somebody better to go up against Tony Jaa? I’m sure there are plenty of actors who could have done a much better job. Marrese Crump as RZA’s no.2 in his organisation manages to outshine his American co-star by having a couple of great one-on-one scraps with Jaa.

At the end of the day, whilst it’s good to see Tony Jaa and Jeeja Yanin back on the big screen, I can’t rate this movie other than plain average. The plot is a bit of a mess and the awful CGI effects doesn’t help things one bit. Hopefully things will improve for both stars in the future and I eagerly await their next movies.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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Phobia 2 (2009)

phobia 2 poster

Phobia 2 is a five tale anthology horror movie from Thailand. The tales are:

NOVICE – a young delinquent teen called Pey is taken to a quiet rural Buddhist monastery by his mother as he has committed a crime – he likes throwing rocks at car windshields resulting in accidents. Her hope is he will stay out of trouble in the monks’ care and he can’t be arrested by the authorities. However, Pey isn’t happy with having his head shaved off and taking part in training. The head monk realises he is out of control and soon Pey is up to his neck in trouble after disturbing the Hungry Ghost festival.

WARD – Arthit is a young man who finds himself in hospital after injuring his leg. In the bed next to him is a dying cult leader who seems to be immobile and in a coma. Arthit is convinced that the man is playing dead and comes alive at night to terrorise him in his bed.

BACKPACKERS – A couple of young Japanese travellers in Thailand hail a lift from a passing truck. The driver and the man accompanying him seem a little bit shifty to the travellers. On their journey there is a loud noise emanating from the back of the truck. The truck pulls over and the driver opens the door to the back. It is full of dead bodies. They are taken out and put on the ground. Then something strange happens and the bodies start twitching and come back alive as bloodthirsty zombies who go on a rampage.

SALVAGE – Set in a car salesroom, the female boss Nuch finds her young son has gone missing in the huge car lot after playing there. Is it something to do with the fact that she has neglected to tell any of her clients that all the cars in her showroom have been fixed after being in deadly accidents?

THE END – An actress who is taken ill on a shoot dies at hospital but returns as a ghost to finish her scenes.

Thai horror movies have been on the up in the past couple of years and this is a very good sequel to the 2008 anthology series which increases the stories from 4 to 5 short terror tales. It was a big hit in cinemas across the country. Each offers something completely different from the others. Anthology movies are notorious for being a bit hit and miss but in this movie all of the 5 stories are great though some are definitely stronger than others. Several of the stories are linked to karma in that if you do something bad it will return twice-fold to haunt you. The first story (Novice) is a great example of this. All 5 stories have been stylishly shot and the stories are well crafted.

Phobia 2 screenshot

My favourite out of the 5 stories is without a doubt the 3rd one (Backpackers). It’s such a tense, bloody and action packed story. You just have an inkling that the driver of the truck who is edgy is hiding something in the back of the truck but you don’t expect to witness the gruesome cargo after being unloaded to come back to life. If you enjoyed zombie horrors like 28 Days Later that gives you an idea of what this story is all about. The 4 people try and escape from the rampaging onslaught of the zombies that are baying for their blood. The makeup, gore, sound effects and just the general feel of the story is brilliant. It’s a hell of a shame that this story wasn’t expanded, I would have loved to have seen a full length movie of it.

I also particularly enjoyed the last story (The End) as it is more of a humourous tale than outright horror. You will probably recognise the characters in this segment   –  they played campers in the first Phobia movie but this time they are members of a film crew. I did find myself laughing several times during the story. It’s a story which mocks the horror genre and of another Thai horror movie (Alone) that the ghost actress Marsha Wattanpanich took part in. She plays a parody version of the character she portrayed in it. I’ve yet to see Alone but I’m sure I’ll check it out in the future.
I would say the 4th story (Salvage) is the weakest of the lot but it’s still a fine story with a good deal of suspense and scares. It does outstay it’s welcome a little bit and has an unlikeable character in the lead role.

There isn’t much that you won’t like in this horror movie. It’s got everything that makes a good frightfest – bloodthirsty zombies, vengeful ghosts, gore and some good scares. Each story is creative and unique. All in all a worthy anthology movie to check out.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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this girl is Bad-ass promo

Jukkalan is a tough young orphan woman living with her Uncle Wang who runs a bootleg DVD shop.  She’s employed by 2 crime bosses into discreetly delivering ‘certain’ packages to each other by bike. These packages although never said is presumed to be drugs. The street smart woman has also been dipping her grubby fingers into the packages and stealing some of the drugs so that she can sell them herself and make some money but also trying to get the 2 gangs to be at each other’s throats.  Before long the 2 bosses find out what she’s been doing and send their cronies after her. They’re no match for her fighting skills but still the bosses will not stop in their pursuit of her and she’s given an ultimatum to cough up. Jukkalan also has her eyes set on a long haired rock guitarist who lives next door which doesn’t please an old childhood ‘friend’ Duan who likes her a lot and wants her to notice him but she keeps beating him up. Will Jukkalan manage to come up with the cash she needs to get the 2 bosses off her back?

Ever since Thai martial arts star Jeeja Yanin burst onto the scene with Chocolate, the rest of her work hasn’t been up the high standard I expected it to be and I’m not sure why this has been the case. With such a great title for this movie I had high hopes that this was going to be a return of form for Jeeja but my hopes were dashed immediately during the first 15 mins. Let me give it to you straight: this is more of a comedy movie than a martial arts one so all of you out there thinking that just because of the movie’s title it’s going to be a rip-roaring action fest are going to be disappointed. The problem is this movie has been sold as a martial arts movie for Westerners when clearly it isn’t – it’s a comedy movie with a couple of action scenes thrown in which is due in part to the director who’s a comedian himself. The thing is Thai audiences love that kind of thing but Western audiences like seeing more action content than comedy in this type of movie. The action sequences are too short to be really great though I did like 2 decent fights – one in which Jeeja uses a bicycle to fend off some baddies which somewhat reminded me of what Jackie Chan used to do years ago in that he’d pick up an object and use it in various ways to fight an opponent. The rest of the fights are underwhelming and I found them lacking. The main plot of the movie is a bit basic, rather weak and the pacing throughout is very uneven. I would suspect due to a lot of viewers not being familiar with Thai pop culture that some of the jokes contained in the movie fall flat. The comedy when it does work is really funny and I did laugh during certain scenes.

this girl is bad-ass screenshot

The sub-plot with Jeeja falling for a handsome guitarist who turns out to be gay and Duan, one of her ugly male friends trying to win her heart is rather pointless though he does get some great gags revolving around him. This part of the movie is meant to show a softer side to the tough image that Jeeja usually portrays in that she can be cute and adorable as well. As for the rest of the characters in this movie the words camp and oddball springs to mind from one of the gangster bosses who speaks with a high squeaky voice to some stupid cops who can’t shoot properly, midget muay-thai wrestlers and a weird looking character going around on a wooden horse with wheels in which he has to bounce up and down to move. They’re all played completely OTT and purely for laughs.

It’s a shame this movie didn’t live up to what I thought it would be and the title of this movie is very misleading (perhaps they should have stuck with the original name Jukkalan instead). There’s too much lame comedy and not enough action for my liking. I find Jeeja being wasted in these comedy movies but hopefully we’ll see her back at her kick-ass best in Tony Jaa’s The Protector 2 which should come out sometime in 2014. Let’s hope that’s the case.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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Uncle_Boonmee_DVD.indd

Boonmee is a former soldier with the Thai army who is dying of kidney failure. Rather than spending his final days in a hospital, he retires to his house in the countryside in North Thailand with his carer from Laos called Jai. His sister in law Jen and nephew Tong come over to see him. During dinner on the porch, the trio are visited by the ghost of Boonmee’s dead wife Huay and his son Boonsong who has transformed into some sort of weird ape with glowing red eyes after running from the family some years ago and having sex with a ‘ghost monkey’. Boonmee says his goodbyes to friends and makes a trip along with Jen and Tong to a cave deep in the jungle where he says he was born. There he prepares for his final journey to meet his maker…………

Winner of the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010, this movie is one that divides opinion amongst people. Some say it’s a work of art and a highly original piece of work whilst others say it’s an overlong, boring, incoherent mess. I’d been wanting to see it for a while. I must warn anybody that might be tempted to see this movie that if you expect a story with a straightforward linear narrative you’re not going to get it here plus I think you really have to be in the right mood to appreciate this rather unique and bold piece of work by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. This is the first movie I’ve seen by him. I’d like to think that as well as enjoying modern blockbusters I can also enjoy a more simplistic arthouse movie like this one. Even after watching this movie and you still don’t understand what the director was trying to say don’t worry you’re not alone. It’s a movie that will leave you with more questions than answers. The director even said once in a newspaper interview that you don’t need to understand everything. Well that’s a relief!!

uncle boonmee screenshot

Basically this movie is about Boonmee’s past lives and dead family members coming back to haunt him and sees the man tying loose ends up as he approaches death. Of course it’s a lot more than that. It’s a reflection on life and death with some hidden meanings. A lot of the scenes are just of people talking to each other about life and love amongst other things. I’m sure there’s something about karma in this story as well. There’s no conflict, action or drama in this movie. It even includes a rather strange scene in the middle which doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the movie. It involves an old princess who longs to be young again. Beside a waterfall she starts talking to a catfish in a pool who answers her back. She then enters the pool and proceeds to have sex with the catfish in a surreal moment! The director uses stunning imagery of the Thai countryside and jungle with the environment itself as the soundtrack to the story. Every shot is beautifully composed. The performances of the cast are very good. I liked how all the characters didn’t become scared of the ghosts that came and visited. They just took it all in their stride like it’s something that happens regularly in their lives. Perhaps it’s a Buddhist thing? I did find the strange apes with glowing red eyes that inhabit the forest to be a bit creepy.

This isn’t a movie for everyone. For anybody that wants to see something different and highly original then you’ll love this movie. It can be confusing and at times plodding but stick with it. I enjoyed the mystical side to the movie. And if you can make sense of it all I salute you!!

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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A Korean man Mun and his family consisting of wife Mi-ja, elder son Tae-yang, daughter Tae-mi and younger son Tae-Poong have settled down in Bangkok, Thailand where the father runs a Taekwondo school and the mother runs a restaurant. An expensive Thai treasure valued at $30 million dollars called the Kris Of Kings (basically an ancient long dagger) has been returned to the country and already a gang of Korean thieves take the opportunity to steal it but luckily the Mun family is nearby and manage to thwart the robbery. The gang of thieves escape and the family gets to be famous thanks to their efforts. However, the leader of the gang refuses to accept that the family have humiliated him and sends some of his thugs to the Mun restaurant but again they come away defeated. Mun decides to send his kids away to an old family friend who runs a small zoo in the countryside thnking that it’ll be safer for them there. Eventually though the gang find out where they are and kidnap Tae-Poong. The only way Mun and his family can have him back is to steal the Kris and hand it over to the gang leader. Will they be successful in stealing the Kris and rescuing their young son?

Whilst there are plenty of action movies from Korea, Korean martial arts movies are few and far between. This movie tries to readdress the balance but is it any good? Well, the answer is not really. This was the first joint movie project between South Korea and Thailand. The plot is nothing new, in fact the story is wafer-thin and just an excuse for the continuous action and whilst there are a few decent martial arts fights, it just wasn’t enough to make the movie rise above anything else than plain average. There’s even a dull side plot about Mun pushing his elder son to succeed at martial arts because he failed at the Olympics 20 years previously but all Tae-yang is interested in doing in taking part in dance auditions. It didn’t help the movie one bit that terribly cheap CGI effects was used at times such as a scene in a crocodile pit. It just looks bad. The villains aren’t even that menacing, there’s a distinct lack of any drama and the comedy I thought was lame. The highlight for me is near the end in a fight inside one of Bangkok Zoo’s enclosures where Tae-yang jumps on top of empty animal cages and has to fend off the villains all the while trying to avoid several spinning metal fans dangling from the ceiling. Quite an inventive scene and very exciting but sadly that was the only scene that really got me going. Maybe I was expecting director Prachya Pinkaew to come up with the goods seeing as he gave us the excellent Ong Bak, Chocolate and Tom Yum Goong but he doesn’t come close to emulating those movies with this one even if it does feature a dancing elephant!!

The cast I didn’t think was particularly good either apart from the 2 young Koreans who played brother and sister. Na Tae-Ju as Tae-yang is probably the best actor in the movie and I enjoyed his fighting style. He’s very nimble and acrobatic. He incorporates some dancing moves in keeping in line with his character and some taekwondo to kick some ass. Kim Gyeong-suk as Tae-mi who plays his sister fares well in her fighting scenes as well. That’s to be expected as both are major Taekwondo stars in South Korea. The rest of the Korean family is a bit bland. Thai martial arts star Jeeja Yanin is horribly underused and doesn’t get the chance to really show off her skills. After all, even though the movie is set in Thailand, it is mostly a Korean production (they funded 75% of the movie) and the filmmakers obviously didn’t want Jeeja to overshadow the main stars. Those expecting her to feature in some bone crunching action like in her 2 previous movies (Chocolate/Raging Phoenix) will definitely be disappointed. I know I was!

The Kick might have it’s moments but overall I found the whole movie very underwhelming. Instantly forgettable.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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4bia (2008)

4bia is a Thai horror anthology movie consisting of 4 short stories:

Happiness – a young woman, Pin is alone in her apartment, with a cast on her leg from an accident in a taxi. Having nothing to do, Pin communicates with the world via her mobile phone and the internet. She begins receiving text messages from an unknown man, someone who seems to be equally lonely, but friendly enough. Pin is elated at first, but then becomes alarmed when the stranger knows her every move.

Tit-For-Tat – A boy is mercillesly bullied by a group of his high school peers and eventually killed. He comes back from the grave to extract revenge on his killers.

In The Middle – Four school friends have gone on a camping trip in the wilderness. Whilst talking about horror movies in their tent at night, they discuss what would happen if one of them died. They agree that the person would come back and haunt the person in the middle of the tent. During a kayaking session, the 4 are thrown overboard. 3 manage to get back to shore and 1 goes missing. During the night, the missing boy comes back but something is very wrong.

Last Fright – Flight attendant Pim has to take care of a Princess on a specially chartered flight. The Princess is having problems in her marriage and is keen to get back home. What Pim doesn’t know is the Princess has evidence of her fooling around with her husband and she begins to physically and mentally abuse Pim. As revenge, Pim gives a meal to the Princess consisting of shrimp which she’s allergic to and later after landing, Pim finds out the Princess is dead. Now she has to escort the dead body back to her home country with the body placed in a seat on the flight covered in sheets. As the flight begins, Pim realises that perhaps the Princess may not be dead or is she starting to become crazy?

This movie is a bit of a mixed bag with only 2 of the stories good enough to be frightening whilst the other 2 stories aren’t scary at all. The first is very good with it’s claustrophobic setting and the director handles the suspense very well with plenty of tension. Whilst the eventual payoff is a cheap scare, it made me jump so I liked it. The second story I think is quite poor and the pathetic cheap special effects hampers it a lot. The script is awful. It relies on copying the Final Destination movies too much with each of the bullies being killed by an accident. It’s probably the goriest story of the four. The CG zombie characters near the end of the story is horribly executed and embarassing to see. The third is more of a horror comedy so it’s not one to be taken seriously. Again it somewhat copies another US horror in Scream as the 4 lads start talking about some movies. I half expected one of them to ask the rest ‘what’s your favourite scary movie?’ but thankfully that didn’t happen. There is some suspense but the ending was a little bit too predictable for me. And finally the fourth story was great as a psychological thriller as we see a flight attendant slowly losing her mind. A good couple of scares. Out of the four I’d say the first was the best.

You won’t find anything new in this movie at all but as a cheap fun horror it will satisfy the majority of viewers. Those that have watched a lot of Asian horrors will see the ending of each story coming a mile away. The 30 minute limit given to each story doesn’t help things and makes all of the 4 stories suffer as a result. The acting is fine, nothing special at all though I would say that Maneerat Kham-uan manages to stand out from all of the others for her fantastic performance in ‘Happiness’. There are minor references that ties all of the stories together but they had nothing to do with each other.

4bia is a decent horror anthology if you’re a fan of movies like Creepshow and Tales From The Crypt. If you’ve got time to spare and have nothing better to do, this isn’t a bad way to spend nearly 2 hours.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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As the movie begins, we see a depressed Japanese man called Kenji attempting to hang himself but being thwarted by the doorbell of his apartment going off. Kenji lives in Bangkok, Thailand and works in a library there. He doesn’t have a girlfriend and he seems to be an impeccably clean person judging by the rigid state of his apartment where all sorts of books have been stacked around in alphabetical order and the place looks spotless. A person with an OCD disorder perhaps? His brother arrives to see him because he’s in trouble which starts chain of events in Kenji’s life. Kenji murders two people in his apartment and is about to throw himself from a bridge when he sees a young Thai girl Nid in a Japanese school uniform who’s having an argument with her sister Noi. He had noticed her earlier at his workplace and was transfixed by her. When Nid is distracted by Kenji, a passing car slams into her instantly killing the young girl. This tragic incident brings Nid and Kenji together when he asks if he can crash out at her dirty apartment for a couple of days. Thus starts a peculiar romance between the two where they gradually become to depend on each other. When Nid’s gangster ex-boyfriend sticks his nose in her business once more and 3 yakuza arrive from Osaka to see Kenji, the stage is set for a collision.

What an impressive movie this was and so interesting to watch. It’s a surreal romance of sorts (not of the ordinary sort) and also a clash of two differing cultures in more ways than one. Nid being a Thai girl and such a slob, not really giving a toss about cleaning up her place in comparison to Kenji a Japanese man who’s too much of a neat freak for his own good. However the two of them together seems to work, bonded by tragedy. I guess the term ‘opposites attract’ is perfect for the situation. They find solace in each other as both are lonely. The movie is touching, entertaining, and even hilarious at times especially when the 3 yakuza characters come to Bangkok. One of them with a plaster underneath his eye goes around asking every man he comes across if he’s Kenji. The stupidity of his action usually follows with a swift slap across the head. It really is funny to see. Takashi Miike plays the head yakuza gangster by the way so that kind of explains why we see a movie poster of Ichi The Killer shown in the library where Kenji works.

The two leads are excellent. We know what Tadanobu Asano can do as he is such a remarkable actor and he excels again in this movie as Kenji. I’d never seen Sinitta Boomyasak before but she is equally as good in her role as Nid. Seeing Kenji and Nid try and communicate through broken English, a little bit of Japanese and Thai was so good as you can see the chemistry between them. Their mis-understandings of language are juxtaposed with their understandings of each other. There is nothing so clear as body language and this movie relies heavily on the physicality of the two leads. You know that both like each other but have difficulty in expressing their feelings. Their quirky relationship is a joy to watch.

Last Life In The Universe is a fantastic Thai movie which deserves to be seen more by Asian movie fans. Director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang has to be congratulated for weaving such a beautiful tale. The pacing may be too slow for some and the action (if I can call it that) is sporadic so be aware of that. Highly recommended and unmissable.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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