P (TH - BD)
Chris Gould takes a look at the Blu-ray release of this Thai horror from 2005...
Aaw is a young girl who lives with her elderly grandmother in a poor part of rural Thailand. She is ostracised by the other children on account of her being the granddaughter of a 'witch', and as a result she grows into a shy, naive young woman. As time passes her grandmother becomes very ill and Aaw is unable to pay for food or medicine, so she accepts an offer of work in Bangkok in order to earn enough money to send home. When she arrives in the capital she is horrified to learn that she will be expected to work in a gogo bar and, worse still, service the sexual demands of foreigners (or 'farang') in order to get by.
Although most of the other girls dislike her, she finds a friend and confidant in Pookie, who also works at the bar in spite of her dislike of men. With her help, Aaw (or Dau as she has been renamed by the gogo bar's madam, Mamasang) begins to come to terms with her new life. However, in order to become more popular with the customers, Dau resorts to the use of magic, which she learned from her grandmother. At first she uses magic to enhance her desirability, but it's not long before she crosses the line in order to take revenge against the club's exploitative owner and the girls who tormented her. Unfortunately Dau ignores the sacred rules that govern the use of magic and unwittingly unleashes a malevolent spirit that feeds on those around her while she sleeps.
P isn't the sort of film I'd usually watch, but I liked it well enough given that I'm not really a horror aficionado. With that said, P isn't really a horror film. Sure there are horrific elements, but it's more of a (glossy) exploration of the Thai sex industry with elements of ghostly possession thrown in, and I was never remotely scared (or even mildly apprehensive). Although I wished that the film had more teeth with regard to its depiction of prostitution and exploitation, I liked that the possession worked as a metaphor for the corrupting influence of the sex industry, and there were times when I was more disturbed by the non-horror elements than I was by the sight of the evil spirit devouring people's hearts. The scene that really sticks in the mind is the one in which a seedy club owner takes Dau's virginity, which is actually quite uncomfortable to watch. However, I still think that the film could have gone further with its portrayal of what is clearly a fairly unsavoury business (regardless of whether you believe the girls are the exploited or the exploiters).
Performances aren't Oscar-worthy, and it's easy to spot that the actors aren't professionals (even in another language), but Suangporn Jaturaphut (Dau) and Opal (Pookie) have chemistry and it is their scenes that are the most compelling. While her performance is uneven, Jaturaphut does an admirable job for a seventeen-year-old first time actress. I was a little unsure about the rather half-hearted attempt at portraying some sort of lesbian relationship between the two as it seemed rather forced, but I guess the filmmakers could have been trying to say something clever about foreigners' attitudes towards, and expectations of, Thai women. There is also some humour to be found, chiefly in the form of a witchdoctor played by, I believe, Dor Yodrak. Then of course there is the eye candy in the form of the numerous Thai hotties that work in the gogo bar. Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I have a bit of a thing for Asian girls, but given the film's subject matter I couldn't help feeling a little bit like one of the sleazy bar patrons (and maybe that was the point).
Oh, and for those of you who think P is an odd title, the letter apparently has a Thai vowel sign above it that makes the spoken version sound like the Thai word for 'ghost'. So, it's a bit of a geeky in-joke that will probably go over the heads of most English speakers, but there you go.
P is presented at 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC) and looks pretty good for a low-budget Thai film, especially when you consider that this is the first Blu-ray title from the distributor (and indeed the first home-grown Thai Blu-ray release). On the whole I was relatively impressed by what I saw. The image is free from defects, colours are warm and natural (apart from a few stylised scenes) and some of the cinematography is extremely appealing. Things can go a little 'soft focus' on occasion, but as I'm not familiar with the intended look of the film it is entirely possible that this could be attributed to the source material. Unfortunately it results in a lack of detail when compared to most high definition releases, but it's definitely a step up from DVD quality. Still, this and some slightly dodgy CGI are really the only negatives that I can think of, so it's fair to say that this is a good first effort. In fact, it's actually on a par with a number of high-profile titles that I've come across.
The film's soundtrack is presented in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kbps). I'm sure some people will be annoyed by the lack of some sort of lossless or uncompressed audio, but when mega blockbusters from huge studios like Warner Brothers can only muster standard definition audio tracks, you can kind of forgive a Thai company with limited resources for not providing TrueHD or DTS-HD. As for the track itself, well it's actually pretty good. Subtleties are handled very well, be it the constant chirping of crickets in the Thai jungle or the sound of the bustling streets of Bangkok, and while it isn't hugely dynamic the track handles the various scares effectively. Bass is surprisingly deep, especially during the many musical cues in the gogo bar, and while there isn't a lot of directionality nothing in the film really calls for it (although there is one neat scene towards the end). Dialogue remains strong and intelligible throughout (well, as much as any Thai is intelligible to my ears) and music is well-placed within the mix, even if a few of the cues are a little inappropriate. Even so, the track is still a solid accompaniment to the visuals.
The English subtitles are easy to read and appear to provide a fairly accurate translation of the Thai dialogue (although I'm sure there are a few colloquialisms in there).
The disc includes what might initially appear to be a modest collection of extras, presented by way of some fairly basic menus. However, while it's true that the presentation isn't up there with the best, the content is actually quite ambitious (more so than first looks would suggest).
Director's Scrapbook: This is actually more than one feature; it's a collective term for the interactive elements of the disc, which include a commentary from director Paul Spurrier and an isolated score, along with more advanced BonusView features like picture-in-picture storyboards and on-set footage. Interestingly, you can actually activate more than one option at any given time and flick back-and-forth between the different streams using your remote, which is something that I wasn't expecting.
Trailer (01:46 HD): The film's theatrical trailer is available in full 1080p video with accompanying Dolby Digital audio.
Guide to Soi Cowboy (05:01 HD): Author Dean Barrett takes us on a tour of one of the areas where gogo bars are common, providing a little background information as he goes. Barrett plays one of the ex-pats who meets a bloody end at the hands of Dau's demonic alter-ego and I don't think he had to do a lot of acting for his part...
The Music Video (04:59 HD): This five-minute music video includes footage from the film set to the 'power ballad' that plays over the end credits.
It's hard to sum P up in a few words, but I think my colleague Gabe Powers said it best with ' Showgirls meets voodoo in a Thai brothel'. I'm not really one for Asian 'ghost' stories, but this one at least offered something a bit different to the usual pale white child with huge black eyes and I found it quite enjoyable in spite of its obvious problems. While the disc lacks the polish of the latest releases from any one of the major studios, for the first release from a small Thai distributor it is a pretty impressive offering. The audio-visual elements exceeded my expectations, and while the extras look a bit flimsy on paper the 'Director's Scrapbook' actually contains some worthy features that add real value to the package. If you're a fan of the film then this is clearly the version to own, but you might also want to check it out if you have an interest in Asian cinema and ghost stories in particular.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 1st April 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Extras: Director's Scrapbook, Trailer, Guide to Soi Cowboy, Music Video
Easter Egg: No
Director: Paul Spurrier
Cast: Suangporn Jaturaphut, Amy Siriya, Irene Fah, Dor Yodrak
Length: 109 minutes
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