SARS Wars (2004) Movie Review

“SARS Wars” sees the ever expanding Thai film industry take a stab at the zombie subgenre which has been given somewhat of an action packed facelift in recent years. Thankfully, unlike a great many of the recent genre films from Thailand which appear to have been shot on video, writer/director Taweewat Wantha actually has a pretty decent budget to work with, resulting in a film with a slick, professional look that even manages some fairly impressive CGI work.

The plot is standard stuff, with the denizens of a high rise apartment block under siege after the titular disease mutates into an infectious form which turns its victims into flesh eating ghouls. Thrown into the mix are a bunch of dim-witted kidnappers and virginal warrior Khun (Supakorn Kitsuwon, also in the Thai classic “Tears of the Black Tiger”), whose master sends him on a mission to rescue Liu (Phintusuda Tunphairao), the nubile, school uniform wearing kidnapped victim. In the best tradition, it transpires that the new form of the virus has been engineered by the military who, led by dominatrix Dr. Diana (Lene Christensen) storm the building in order to wipe out the infection as part of a test of its effectiveness.

Although the plot is essentially similar to that of “Versus”, “Bio-Zombie” and countless others, the excellently-titled “SARS Wars” scores extra points for working in some surreal comedy and irreverent social commentary amongst the plentiful gore and scantily clad women. The laughs are generally effective, if at times rather puzzling for Western viewers and compliment the film’s more serious horror elements quite nicely. Although the film degenerates into narrative chaos long before the nonsensical final scenes, since it is obvious from the start that the whole affair is not meant to be taken seriously, this approach actually works quite well and the wackiness never feels forced. Much like Herman Yau’s classic “The Ebola Syndrome”, the film makes no real use of the actual SARS virus, though the use of it in such a far out way surely scores a few points for bad taste humour in the fine tradition of exploitation cinema.

Director Wantha keeps things moving along at a lunatic pace, and throws in playful references to a variety of films, including lightsabers and a “Kill Bill” style series of animated scenes which for some reason endow the female lead with massive breasts. The film is pretty much non-stop action of one sort or another, and when things threaten to slow down, Wantha improvises by throwing in a giant CGI snake and a bizarre, “Crying Game” style transvestite gag which adds a genuinely disturbing note to the proceedings.

Although the film is fairly bloody, with some graphic neck and entrail chewing, there are no real standout scenes of nastiness. In fact, a great deal of the splatter is played for laughs, especially since the majority of it is directed against the zombies, who are dispatched in a variety of inventive and bizarre ways. Being a Thai film, there is plenty of sex and ladies wearing leather bondage outfits during the most impractical of moments, but no actual nudity, a fact which Wantha pokes fun at several times.

Overall, being determinedly self-referential and soaked in pop cinematic culture, “SARS Wars” is perhaps more likely to appeal to the fan boy crowd, though its flair and high action quotient make for exciting viewing, and the film stands out as one of the subgenre’s best, and certainly one of the better genre efforts to have come out of Thailand in recent times.

Taweewat Wantha (director) / Sommai Lertulan, Kuanchun Phemyad, Taweewat Wantha, Adirek Wattaleela (screenplay)
CAST: Suthep Po-ngam …. Master Thep
Supakorn Kitsuwon …. Khun Krabii
Phintusuda Tunphairao …. Liu
Lene Christensen …. Dr. Diana

Buy SARS Wars on DVD