Sars Wars: Bankok Zombie Crisis (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers grabs a lazer-sword for some Thai style zombie smashing...
Hours after a triumphant speech toting the fact that Thailand is the only East Asian country without any cases of any strain of the new SARS virus, an outbreak of type 4 SARS is discovered in a large apartment complex. It seems that type 4 SARS has nothing to do with the upper respiratory system. Instead it turns the infected into raging, flesh-craving zombies. The Thai government is quick to take action, and plans a cover-up that'll see hundreds of Thai citizens dead.
Meanwhile, Khun Krabii is sent by his master to save the sexy and nubile young daughter of a high stakes business tycoon from a group of seedy kidnappers. The kidnappers are holding the girl hostage atop the very building infected with the deadly virus. Krabii is soon in over his head, and calls his master in for some assistance. It's an old fashion zombie smack down, complete with faux-lightsabers, mutated animals, and raunchy villains.
There are high concept films, and then there are high concept films; and there's also Sars Wars, which has a concept lower than the Ben Davis khaki’s on the lamest Gringo wanna-be gangster on University Ave. Who wants another zombie comedy, specifically another Romero and Raimi inspired East Asian zombie comedy? A show of hands, everyone. Is that all? Well you get one anyway, you ingrates, and I'm pretty sure you'll get another one next week too. This isn't the worst RRIEAZC I've ever seen, but it's barely anything to get too worked up over as well. It lies somewhere between Wild Zero and Stacy.
I admit to not having seen too many Thai films, in fact I'm pretty sure the American release of Ong-Bak is my beginning and end so far, and I'll guess that there's a cultural uniqueness to some of the film's humour. At the same time, though, I'm pretty sure this film aims at being as Western as possible. The action and horror aspects, though wholly unoriginal, work in that 'beer and pizza' kind of way, but the lewd humour is so unimaginatively low-brow it teeters into the realm of embarrassing. I guess if Scary Movie is your cup o' tea you'll enjoy yourself enough. It really is too bad because there are some funny, Stephen Chow-esque touches throughout.
Sars Wars is the very definition of a mixed bag. There are plenty of great moments, but just as many groaners, making the film average out to be disappointingly mediocre. I liked the look of the zombies a lot, and the apartment tower setting reminded me of David Cronenberg's Shivers, or more specifically Lamberto Bava's Shivers rip off, Demons 2. It's a tired formula, yes, but I'm still a sucker for it. Maybe it's the die hard Dawn of the Dead fan in me that enjoys large, yet constrained areas for my zombie fighters to do battle.
The film peaks during the animated interludes. The have utilized a few different styles of unique animation, which I'm guessing were meant to capitalize on Kill Bill’s Oren Ishii origin, considering their use and basic looks. Regardless of possibly less than honourable motivations, the animation is show stopping in a charming kind of lo-fi way. Some viewers may also notice that the film's structure is very similar to that of a modern video game, most specifically Resident Evil. Button mashers the world over will likely recognize a cut scene/action/cut scene/action structure, not to mention the third act's 'final boss', a giant, mutated snake that can be seen throughout torturing our heroes in preparation for the final confrontation.
There's some real smashing sound editing (some of the female zombies scream very inhumanly), and the candy-coloured visuals were most pleasing, but it all rang pretty hallow. The rapid fire, music video editing is painfully hip, and in a few instances actually creates enough confusion that I was pretty sure the DVD had skipped a chapter. It's clear that the film was made to make money not as art, so this case of terminal hipness can be forgiven, and I have to take the film for what it aims to be rather than what I'd like it to be.
In its brighter scenes, this Discotek DVD looks great. Colours are rich and vibrant with minima blooming or bleeding. At its best this film looks like a living cartoon. During the darker scenes the transfer reveals some problems, mostly grain related. The darker a shot, the heavier the grain, to the point that some scenes are hard to ascertain. This issue seems to be a problem of both the original film elements and the DVD's compression, as this grain is often marching hand-in-hand with low-level noise. When the darkness passes however, the transfer becomes once again dynamic.
I was caught off guard by how good this DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 track was. The entire track is very aggressive, and surround effects are lovingly crafted. As I said in the film review, the sound design of Sars Wars is one of its strongest assets. Occasionally a cartoony emphasizing sound effect will be too loud, but for the most part we're dealing with real pros here. There is the tiniest issue with the dynamic range of the track, and I did find myself turning the system up and down a few times.
I was a little disappointed with the DVD's subtitle track, which didn't subtitle credits or signage, and occasionally dropped out all together. I wouldn't say anything important was missing, but it was disappointing.
First up is a large buffet of deleted scenes. These are more interesting than your average deleted scenes in that they seem to represent an entirely different film, or at least an altered first half. I'd like to note that one of the two plot synopsis of the film on imdb.com is inaccurate because it takes all these deleted scenes into account. Some of the scenes are basically the same with costume and setting changes, and others feature a more thoughtful, but less entertaining opening. There are also a few scenes that may have been cut by the Thai film censors due to their general raunchiness (they aren't missed), but I don't know enough about the Thai film industry to say for sure.
The rest of the disc is in the promotional vein, including trailers, music videos, and a featurette. The featurette is short and pretty uninformative, but does let the audience know that Sars Wars was made with box office receipts in mind rather than critical acclaim. The music videos are interchangeable but fun, and the music is shockingly poorly produced. How is it that these people can make competent CG creatures but can't mix a rock/rap song? The second, and better (but less catchy) song is sung on the video by the film's star. I'm not sure if he sang it originally though.
The longer, theatrical trailer is great simply because it ends with the phrase 'bring some toilet paper...because you'll shit yourself laughing'. Seriously, more American trailers should be so blunt, even if it is a lie. Discotek has also provided a promo reel of recent releases, set to a groovy techno song.
If you honestly haven't had enough East Asian zombie comedies, than you should probably give Sars Wars a shot. It flops violently between 'inspired' and 'worthless', and is enough to entertain a room full of half-drunk teenagers. It's not as much fun as Wild Zero or Bio Zombie, and it's not in the same league as Shaun of the Dead, but there are worse ways to waste your time. I was very impressed with the audio presentation, and the deleted scenes offer an interesting incite into the filmmaker's process, even if the making-of featurette does not. Besides, how can I hate any movie with a faux-lightsaber?
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 15th August 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Behind the Scenes, Music Videos, Trailers, Discotek Promo Reel
Easter Egg: No
Director: Taweewat Wantha
Cast: Po-Ngam, Kitsuwan, Tunphairao
Genre: Action, Comedy and Horror
Length: 95 minutes
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