The Haunted Drum, a Thai picture that mixes drama, romance, and supernatural/horror elements from 2007, follows a young man named Ping (Kett Thantup) who is a music student who is take in by a master drummer named Aajaan Duang. Ping wants nothing more than to learn how to play an ancient drum named the Perng Mang, which if history is to be believed, was made from the skin of a beautiful woman named Thip (Woranut Wongsawan).
Ping's teacher gives him as many lessons as he can and Ping's ability fast improves under his tutelage. Everything seems to be coming up roses for the young man, who soon falls in love with a local girl, until some of Duang's students start showing up dead in increasingly bizarre ways. Complicating matters further is the presence of Muan (Anusorn Dachapanya), Duang's arch-rival, who does his best to steal the man's students and take them off to learn from him. Eventually Muan challenges Ping to a drumming competition figuring that if he can beat Duang's start student in public he'll have won the day. What Duang doesn't realize is that Ping will be playing the Perng Mang, which is much more than just a regular drum...
While the packaging for this release would like you to believe that this is a straight out horror picture, the truth is that it's as much a romantic drama as it is anything else. Yes, there are definitely strong horror elements to the film, including a couple of gory scenes (an eye is gouged out, a chest is cut open with a knife, among other grisly murder set pieces) but the truth of the matter is that these feel almost tacked on in that they don't really further the plot all that much. The bulk of the film has to do with Ping's unusual romance and how it's linked to the drum that he's learning to play as well as Ping's evolving commitment to his musicianship and how he puts that commitment front and center in his life.
Once you get past the fact that this really isn't much of a horror picture, however, you can enjoy the film for what it is, and that's uniquely Thai mix of the country's culture with more traditional cinematic elements. The film is beautifully shot on location in a more rural part of the country and it makes great use of the picturesque area capturing much of the natural beauty quite effectively. The film also really relies quite heavily on traditional Thai music, which plays a big part in setting the mood and the atmosphere in the film.
In terms of the various performances that make up the movie, however, the film shows its weak spot. The chemistry that should have existed between Ping and the lady in his life doesn't have that sort of natural feeling spark that is required to make something like this believable. Instead, the feelings we're supposed to accept as natural between the two winds up coming across as forced and overly scripted. This hurts the picture a fair bit, though not enough to ruin what is otherwise a nicely shot and well made, interesting, and creative cross-genre experience.
Aside from the fact that this anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen transfer is interlaced (as are all of the supplements on the disc), the picture quality is fairly good. There are some shots where the colors look a little bit light but there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or heavy edge enhancement. Some grain is common throughout playback and there are some minor trails evident during quick motion but overall the picture quality is alright. Not perfect, but alright.
Audio options are provided in the film's original Thai language in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes with optional subtitles supplied in English, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese. The audio quality is quite good regardless of which track you choose. The 5.1 track spreads things out a bit more than the 2.0 track does, obviously, and it has better and stronger bass response but both mixes feature clean, clear audio and distinct channel separation.
The primary extra feature on this disc is a Behind The Scenes (20:58) segment that is presented in fullframe. It's fairly clip heavy but in between those clips you'll see some interesting behind the scenes footage of the cast and crew working on the film which have been subtitled in English for this release. There's a fair bit of discussion about the drum and its use in the movie which lends an explanation as to its cultural significance and some interviews with the cast who discuss their characters.
Aside from that, there a pair of TV spots for the film included here and trailers for a few other Thai horror films that play before you get to the main menu. The packaging lists a music video, but it's nowhere to be found on the menu screens.
Far more than just another 'Asian ghost' story, The Haunted Drum is a beautifully crafted supernatural film that mixes horror with the country's unique cultural aesthetic and music to interesting effect. Not everyone will appreciate the filmmaker's efforts as it's not as pure a horror film as the packaging would lead you to believe, but that doesn't make it any less rewarding. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.