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Nang Nak

Kino // Unrated // May 10, 2005
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted May 7, 2005 | E-mail the Author
Nang Nak (1999) tells a folk horror tale that is part of Thai tradition. It is every bit as familiar in Thai culture as "Hansel and Gretel" or the urban legend of the hitchhiker with a hook hand is to whitebread Westerners. Suspense and shock is something that relies on surprise, so, unfortunately, familiarity can be a drawback when it comes to horror.

The year is 1868 and Thailand is in the midst of war. Mak decides to join in the fight, though it is a difficult decision since he must leave his pregnant wife, Nak, behind. Months pass and Mak is severely wounded in battle and teeters on the brink of death. Aided by monks at a monastery, he is kept alive and recovers from his wounds. Meanwhile, Nak is not so fortunate and dies while giving birth to their child which also does not survive.

Because his life was saved, karma dictates that Mak should eventually become a monk. He agrees but wants to spend time with his wife and child first. When he returns home, Nak and his son are indeed there but, unbeknownst to him, they are only ghosts. The villagers attempt to convince him of the truth, but Nak's restless spirit bolsters Mak's delusion and her vengeful spirit is none to kind to those who try to stand between her and her family.

Nang Nak is a supernatural horror love story that proved to be a big hit in Thailand, as numerous sources are fond to state, out grossing Titantic in Thai cinemas. Helmed by Jan Dara director Nonzee Nimibutr, it is a solid looking film productionwise, though a little standard in its direction. The cast has a non-professional actor air, which swings between effortless naturalism for the minor scenes and lacking dramatics for the bigger emotions. But, despite their shortcomings, the actors do have some good points, be it Mak's hallucinatory misbelief or Nak's sadness.

Again, I've got to go back to the roots. That is, the story of Nak is a familiar one in Thai culture. There is no real attempt at mystery and it unfolds with very little tension, one assumes, because they rightfully figured Thai audiences knew the tale so well. So, it finds a bad balance between the horror and the love story. Most of the scares are quaint, old school shock stuff, fast cutting to decayed bodies being eaten by animals, a flash of thunder, and so forth. It is actually a bit of a surprise when some CGI shows up. The bottom line is, you cannot feel too much compassion for Nak because she isn't a benign spirit. While her hubby isn't looking, she goes about killing old ladies, best friends, and terrifying the village to the point that they are hiring the 1800's Thai version of a Ghost Buster to get rid of her and free Mak from her bewitching.

The DVD: Kino

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. This one does get the job done and the (what is a kind way to say it?) lesser budgeted film looks pretty darn good. The sharpness is pretty crisp. Color hues, be it the lush green of the tropical surroundings or the natives golden skin, are striking. Some grain and minor print dirt is present. The real minus it gets is in the shadow details, which, even through adjusting, are hard to balance resulting in many scenes getting a bit lost in the dark.

Sound: Dolby Digital Surround, Thai language, with optional English subtitles. Good audio, making the most out of the percussive score, which really wallops you in the opening titles and some glaring montages. Thankfully the subs are not burned in like the old (OOP and of less quality) HK DVD.

Extras: Text info about the director.

Conclusion: Well, a barebones but fair disc of a decent, but not too suspenseful horror film. I don't think it leans itself towards getting many repeats; therefore, I'll say this one is more a rental rather than a purchase for foreign horror fans.

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