It took British wit to come up with a cleverly straightforward exploitation title like Lesbian Vampire Killers, and it took the morons that run American movie studios to ruin it. Admittedly, the title never made me want to see the film (and based on its reviews and some of the footage, I probably won't), but at the very least, "Lesbian Vampire Killers" gets the viewer's attention, whereas "Vampire Killers", our dull-as-dirt Stateside substitute, does not. The reason I bring this up is that I have just viewed a Thai horror/probably-comedy movie that includes sleaze like the corruption of the innocent (young girls turned go-go dancers turned prostitutes), blood-spewing deaths, grizzled psychics, vindictive witchcraft, and its own set of lesbians -- one that has been sitting on my shelf for months on end waiting for me to review it -- because nobody thought they needed to come up with a better title for Americans than P. Thanks to the special features, I am informed that "P" is actually the Thai word for "ghost". Of course, there's already a famous Ghost in the US, and Ghost or even Ghost Story are boring titles all their own, so I can't blame them for not going with that either; still, you have to draw people in. Go-Go Vengeance, perhaps?
When the viewer is introduced to Aaw (Suangporn Jaturaphut), she's a quiet, timid girl who lives in the Thai jungle, tending to her ailing grandmother (Pisamai Pakdeevijit). Both of them are rumored -- correctly -- to be witches by the local kids, although the particular brand of spells that Aaw's grandmother teaches her sound fairly tame, all with reasonable, everyday uses. Nonetheless, Aaw is warned that if she does wrong by the magic, it will "allow evil into her heart", and something terrible will happen.
Grandma gets sick, and when Aaw goes to the corner store, she's told her bill for rice is already 300 baht, and if she wants medicine and more food, she's going to have to get a job and cough up the money herself. The shopkeeper refers Aaw to the care of Mamasang (Manthana Wannarod) and Pookie (Opal), who are, respectively, the proprietor and one of the girls at a gogo bar in the city. On her first night as a dancer, Aaw (now named Dau) is asked out by a dickish tourist (Paul Spurrier), who ultimately pushes her the first few steps down the road to prostitution by forcing himself upon her. Meanwhile, other dancers, like May (Narisara Sairatanee), make the job even harder for Dau by mocking her as "jungle girl" and teasing her about her shy demeanor. Soon, Dau is using her magic to get her revenge on the people around her, and forgetting the rules in the process.
The first 20 or so minutes of P are uneventful, stumbling through labored setups for what will come later (at which point the movie will explain again anyway, in new flashbacks). There has to be a better, more organic way to set up the girl's magical upbringing that doesn't involve pulling the audience's leg (no pun intended) with a silly swimming scare that has no apparent bearing whatsoever on the rest of the movie, not to mention a faster way to get the movie's story in motion. The film doesn't take off until Aaw/Dau meets Pookie at the bus station, a boost of energy primarily provided by actress Opal, who takes a role that would probably be a partially-defined supporting role in an American movie and runs with it so well, she basically becomes a co-lead on charisma alone. The tantalizing romantic tension between Aaw/Dau and Pookie is one of the movie's most charming, effective angles, and much of the movie's appeal comes from the girls' relationship.
The twists and turns of the plot (which I am trying to keep vague) lead to some somewhat splattery kill scenes, although P definitely holds back on the violence in comparison to many of the American horror movies being made now. If editor/writer/director Paul Spurrier picked up the pace and gave us a litle more gore (something, to be fair, he might not have been able to afford), P might be a legitimate cult classic in the making. As it is, the movie doesn't get boring, but there is a pressing sense that the movie might derail at any minute. During the last 20 minutes, the film's goals become vague, and the audience's sense of anticipation is thwarted by not having a clear idea of what might happen. Other than the ever-present, general possibilities that everyone will die or that the world will be consumed by evil, it's not clear what the stakes are, which is a problem. The movie's actual conclusion is a bit confusing, but the re-introduction of a vanished character provides a hilarious burst of goodwill on which the film can coast.
Another movie I haven't, and probably won't be seeing is Zombie Strippers, but horror fans with a taste for the foreign who've had their interest piqued by that film and/or Lesbian Vampire Killers might want to give P a shot. The movie never reaches top speed, but even 75% speed makes for a reasonably entertaining spin, the kind of mostly-campy, reasonably funny movie with a handful of "boo!" scares that might have been made at Troma if it weren't so very Thai. I like the movie the way it is, but it's almost too bad: at least you know Troma would have given it a great title.
Like the movie's title, P's front cover mistakes blandness for subtlety, but the back cover should clear up these issues with more than a handful of loosely arranged splatter shots. Overall, I think the Asia Extreme covers have been a little underwhelming; I'm not sure I see the uninitiated taking the disc off the shelf at the sight of the artwork, and once you've seen one color-toned cover with a frightened or bloody Asian girl on it, you've seen 'em all. The DVD does come with a little booklet, which is nice, but the image on the back of the booklet gives away a plot point that the rest of the DVD packaging doesn't.
The Video and Audio
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation on this disc has one primary problem, which is posterization. Unfortunately, most of the movie takes place in the shadows, which makes what might be a minor quibble into a large problem. Inside the blocky ring of shadow gradients, a few other errant compression artifacts appear here and there as well, and blacks are gray rather than inky and deep. Otherwise, the presentation looks pretty good, with a fair amount of detail and strong color, so I guess if you sit way back from your TV, maybe you won't notice anything is wrong.
The film's Thai audio is offered on two separate language tracks, a 5.1 and a 2.0. Really, there's not enough going on in the surrounds of P, even during the big action sequences, for the choice of one over the other to mean much. Aside from a few standard soundtrack stings and some light score, it isn't like there'd be much going on even if this was a more aggressive mix. English subtitles are provided.
A feature-length audio commentary by editor/actor/writer/director Paul Spurrier is hidden away on the language menu, although it's clearly noted on the DVD case. Spurrier is off and running immediately, not even bothering to introduce himself, speaking right from the first second of the movie; you'd think he was being timed or paid by the comment. His comments are mostly technical and factual, rather than conversational, which is not only a bit exhausting but also a little dry, but I imagine plenty of people will enjoy the enormous waves of information he showers the listener with. Plus, he even offers the viewer a drink, if they ever run into him at a real Thai gogo bar -- assuming the viewer makes it to the end of the track.
A small crop of short video extras follow. "P Behind the Scenes" (1:46) is a short reel of VHS-grade B-roll from the set, without narration or explanation, showing Spurrier directing his actors and that kind of thing. Next, "Soi Cowboy Gogo Bars" (4:57) quickly proves itself to be one of the most bizarre little DVD extras I've ever seen, a five-minute piece of a writer named Dean (who has a cameo in the movie) walking the street in Thai where the movie is set (filled with other gogo bars), chatting about the Thai nightlife and the differences between American and Thai culture. It borders on sleazy to see this old guy talking about his interactions with real-life dancers, although he insists that he prefers the Thai bars because they're less "sordid" than American exotic dancing. He's also the one to explain the title's meaning. The video quality is even rougher than that of the B-roll footage. Finally, we have a music video (5:03) for "Rawang" by Underground.
Things are rounded out by a photo gallery with 28 pictures, which can be viewed with the skip button or as a slideshow (2:19), and both the film's teaser trailer and original theatrical trailer. A trailer for Tartan Asia Extreme plays before the main menu.
Despite claims of terror in the quotes on the DVD box, a dull title and an uninspiring front cover image, P is a fun little B-movie that foreign film fans should enjoy with low expectations. That said, given issues with the picture quality and the lack of any great video bonus features (even though the commentary is informative), I can only suggest a rental rather than a purchase.
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