On it’s way to being a pretty good giallo, but then turns into Stand By Me…
Around Thailand the rich and amoral are turning up repeatedly stabbed, stuffed into red suitcases, with their genitals cut off. Flummoxed for clues, Lieutenant Chin (Chatchai Plengpanich), also rather amoral, turns to Tai (Arak Amornsupasiri), a former undercover cop from his unit who’s serving time in a prison and serving Chin on grisly work behind the walls.
Tai, it seems, is convinced he knows the killer from his childhood. So Chin springs him with the express intent of sending him on a trip down memory lane to the small town he grew up in, to work out exactly which of his friends it was. But as the police monitor his progress, the killer’s next target looks like it will be Tai’s girlfriend.
Possibly to be picked up by Terracotta, there’s easily a continuing trend for importing Thai horrors, with various films by Monthon Arayangkoon (The House, The Victim) and Piyapan Choopetch (My Ex) (though I can’t help thinking MVM got a bulk deal with those). Slice proves that visually films from Thailand can be just as sophisticated and glossy as anywhere else, but sadly – in this case at least – that’s not true of the acting or script.
My heart often sinks when watching a movie like Slice, one that like so many Thai films seems to focus on all the worst clichés and subject matter as seen from a foreigners point of view. The lady boys, the sex joints, the drug trade, the corrupt law enforcement; it’s hardly tourist board material. It’s as if little exists between this and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Mekong Hotel – or more significantly, at least in terms of films distributors are interested in bringing to the UK.
And then I found out the story was by Wisit Sasanatieng…
Back in 2001 Wisit Sasanatieng’s debut feature Tears of the Black Tiger attained a fairly wide release in the UK, though I often felt that was because it had the word ‘Tiger’ in the title. A rather genre-bending Western and tribute to the Thai action films of the 60s, it was hardly Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
In 2004 he followed it up with the delightful Citizen Dog. Wonderfully inventive and visual, the film has often (and not unfairly) been compared to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie. It’s easily near the top of my ‘Films they ought to give some sort of release to in the UK but never have’ list, the sight of a chain smoking teddy bear who has looked after his owner since childhood seems like a precursor for Seth MacFarlane’s Ted.
Both of those films subvert clichés well, and I think somewhere within the original Slice, Wisit’s story is trying to do something much cleverer. There’s something of a social satire or comment going on. For instance, there’s the government ministers son who is taken from a mass killing at a sex club and draped over a condo-development billboard that he sells – which also happens to be the same idyllic area Tai was raised in.
Yet director Kongkiat Khomsiri quickly jettisons that to concentrate on Tai’s recollections of growing up, like some tropical Stand By Me. Not necessarily bad, but somewhat jarring against the violence and horror shown in the present-day.
The film itself seems to be part of an on going collaboration between Kongkiat and Wisit, who previously filmed Kongkiat’s script for The Unseeable, another horror. Kongkiat’s direction is pretty slick, having worked on Muay Thai Chaiya and co-directoring Art of the Devil 2, with a great use of colour. Indeed, with the perpetrator wandering around in bright red, slightly S&M, type outfit, there’s a real feel of 70s Italian giallo or even 80s Brian De Palma to the work. There’s some nicely played scenes of gore, for instance when one officer has to tape his jaw shut after he’s shot through the face. Eiew!
But Kongkiat is messy on tone, and the script’s central device, that prisoner Tai knows the killer, seems week at best. Meaning the core twist, which actually is not half bad, is lost in the maudlin reminiscences of the past that dominate the second half of the film.
(Now I wish someone would finally pick up Citizen Dog for release in the UK…)