Bangkok Haunted (2001) Movie Review

The anthology has been an enduringly popular film format, especially in the horror genre, with classics such as the original “Dead of Night” and Mario Bava’s “Black Sabbath” to more modern variations like “Creepshow” and “The Offspring”. This has also been true in Asian cinema, most notably the excellent “Kaidan”, and more recently with the successful “Three”, its sequel “Three: Extremes”, and now from Thailand, “Bangkok Haunted”.

Although heavily advertised as being the work of the currently en vogue Pang brothers, no doubt to cash in on the global success of “The Eye”, two of the film’s three stories are in fact directed by another, less familiar Thai, Pisut Praesangeam. The sole Pang contribution comes from Oxide (who recently went solo with the Alex Garland adaptation of “The Tesseract”) and his brother Danny has nothing to do with the film at all, despite what some DVD releases would have you believe.

The film as a whole is quite interesting in that it is soaked with various forms of Eastern mysticism, most of which are quite different to traditional Western ideas of the supernatural. This unique cultural backdrop does give the three stories an added dimension and is undoubtedly the film’s main strength, helping to create a rich, fantastical atmosphere. Unfortunately, there is little else special about the package, and the lacklustre direction and overlong running time give the whole thing a rather sluggish, bloated feel that makes it far easier to sit through as three separate stores rather than one long dull film.

The three parts of “Bangkok Haunted” are framed by a group of young women drinking in a trendy bar in the titular city, who take turns trying to scare each other with ghost stories. The first of these is “Legend of the Drum”, which itself is based around a tale within a tale, beginning with a young hitchhiker being told about a supposedly haunted drum. The story of the instrument concerns a young girl in a village whose disappearance is blamed on a local freak who was known to be in love with her. This story flips back and forth between the past and the present, where the spirit of the girl intrudes on the troubled relationship of the drum’s newest owner.

The second tale is “Black Magic Woman”, in which a lonely heart follows a neighbour’s advice and uses the mysterious ‘Ply Essence’ to win herself a lover. The essence works wonderfully, and the woman is soon fighting off new admirers, but of course it comes with some rather hideous side effects as she soon learns. The final segment is simply titled “Revenge”, and follows a policeman’s obsessive investigation into the suicide of a young girl he believes was murdered. His quest uncovers a number of unpleasant secrets, including some which suggest that he himself may have been implicated in her death.

Of the three, the Praesangeam directed first story is by far the best, skillfully switching between past and present with a genuinely interesting and moving emotional heart. This is undoubtedly a romantic slice of horror, and though there are a few scares and gruesome moments, it is the more human elements which drive the narrative. The flashbacks to the past are very atmospheric, and do offer an interesting interpretation of the purpose of ghosts.

The second part, also by Praesangeam, is weaker, and resembles a straightforward E.C. Comics story, complete with the requisite grotesque final twist. Although this section of the film is probably the most visceral, it is not particularly interesting, and lacking the rich atmosphere and cultural aspect of the first story, it is a rather pedestrian, average affair. The final story, directed by Pang, is also the weakest, being a somewhat hackneyed police thriller whose final twist is blatantly signposted from the start. The detective’s investigation is plodding and there is little to keep the viewer entertained.

Although there are two directors, there is really very little difference in style between the three stories, and all have a very similar feel. The film as a whole eschews cheap shocks and gore, which would be fair enough if it were not for the fact that each tale lacks little else to hold the viewer’s interest. The first in particular is certainly atmospheric enough, albeit in a rather generic fashion, with Praesangeam relying on old tricks such as green lighting and an overabundance of dry ice. Pang’s direction is similarly unambitious, aiming for a noirish, moody feel, but only managing dull and obvious.

The overall lack of effort or flair in “Bangkok Haunted” is quite obvious and inspires a similar lack of enthusiasm in the viewer. Whilst some films do benefit from a measured approach, an anthology such as this relies upon short, sharp bursts of interest, which “Bangkok Haunted” sadly fails to provide. Given this, the film’s greatest problem lies with its running time, which at two hours and ten minutes is far too long. The second and third tales feel hopelessly padded, and this serves only to slow the pace down further. The framing sections involving the women in the bar seem very gratuitous, and despite containing some apparently self-aware comments on the predictability of the stories, add nothing to the proceedings as a whole. The film would definitely have benefited from being trimmed by a good half hour, though it is debatable whether even this would have improved the final product.

Overall, “Bangkok Haunted” is a wasted opportunity. Given the talent involved, and the potential for providing a uniquely local take on the standard supernatural themes, this is a major disappointment, a film which is far too long, far too slow, and ultimately far too dull to entertain or to recommend beyond passing curiosity value.

Oxide Pang Chun, Pisut Praesangeam (director) / Pisut Praesangeam (screenplay)

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