Ghostly revival with a comic twist
PARINYAPORN PAJEE THE NATION Amphawa, Samut Songkhram
As the boat carrying our media group from Wat Nang Takian rounds the bend in the river and we approach Amphawa district in Samut Songkhram, we can see a hand waving from one of the traditional houses perched on stilts in the coconut orchards lining the banks. As we get near, we see that the hand belongs to a beautiful long-haired woman attired in traditional Thai dress. She's apparently signalling that we've arrived at the set of "Pee Mak Phra Khanong".
"Pee Mak" is, as the name implies, a remake of the Thai ghost classic "Mae Nak Phra Khanong" and our group, visiting the set on the last day of filming, is hoping to find out a little more about a flick that has so far been wrapped in secrecy.
This latest incarnation is produced by GTH and directed by Banjong Pisunthanakun, one half of the team behind the studio's horror hits "Shutter" and "Alone".
Starring half-Thai, half-European actors Mario Maurer and Davika Horne as Mak and Nak, the film stays faithful to the original story of Nak, a woman who dies in childbirth but whose ghost waits for her husband, a conscripted soldier, to come back from the war. Mak returns home and lives a contented life unaware that his wife is a ghost but then discovers the terrible truth.
In Banjong's version, however, Mak returns from the war along with four of his pals, who decided to stay in the house opposite and attempt to inform Mak that his wife is actually a ghost.
The friends are played by Nattapong Chartpong, Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk, Pongsatorn Jongwilak and Wiwat Kongrasri, who worked with Banjong on his segments of the horror compilations "See Phrang" ("Phobia") and Ha Phrang ("Phobia 2").
But the shift in emphasis from Mae Nak to her beloved husband Pee Mak is not the only new twist in Banjong's tale.
"The reasons why the title has changed as well as why the protagonists look more Western than Thai is all explained in the story and I can't spoil it," says the director firmly.
Banjong admits that he first thought of casting Chantavit Thanasevi - his collaborator and star of the 2010 smash hit "Guan Muen Ho" ("Hello Stranger") and with whom he wrote the script for "Pee Mak".
"But I wanted more surprises for the project so Mario was a better choice. From working with him on a commercial, I know he has a funny side. Davika is perfect for the role, she is gorgeous and her big eyes make her look really scary," he says.
Banjong also acknowledges that he's spiced up the male characters, making them livelier and funnier than in previous versions.
"Usually Mak doesn't know that his wife is a ghost and he's shocked when he discovers the truth. I've attempted to revamp the story in such a way that it will surprise the audience yet not deal a blow to a tale that they love," says the director.
It took almost 18 months to complete the script and while Banjong says his film is a comedy, he also makes it clear it is not a parody along the lines of "Scary Movie".
"It is definitely my style of comedy though, the kind you can see in 'Hello Stranger' or in my segments of 'Phobia' and 'Phobia 2' … you know the drollness in the dialogue and the satire," he says.
Though the film is set in bygone days, Banjong is quick to point out that it is not historically correct like Nonzee Nimibutr's version. Comedy comes in many forms and the male characters in his film boast contemporary hairstyles and use modern dialogue while sporting betel-stained teeth.
"You might notice that their haircuts are very Siam Square, so yes, the film is stylised in a way," he says.
He also wanted to give his four actors, the so-called "gang of four", a chance to be in a full feature film project, after their success in the omnibus projects.
"I love working with them, they have a good chemistry. They are also so energetic and always bring fresh ideas to their characters," says the director.
Some of those ideas meshed with his initial concept of setting the story in present day Bangkok with the pals living in an apartment on the opposite side of the river to Mak and attempting to expose the truth.
"But as we decided to use the legend more efficiently, we set it in the old days instead," he says.
What's more every classic scene is still in this version including the one where the ghost extends her arm to pick up the lime that falls from the house to the ground below.
"But anyone expecting a film that's historically correct is in for a real shock," says the director with a big smile.
"Pee Mak Phra Khanong" opens in cinemas on March 28.