SIFF Day 6 – Odysseys in plot development

The second day of Yuthlert Sippapak’s Killer Trilogy falls short of FRIDAY KILLER’s brilliant clarity of vision and Chinese psychological thriller/horror, THE DEVIL INSIDE ME, neither thrills, nor shocks…

Kelly Lin in THE DEVIL INSIDE ME

>>> 夺命心跳 (THE DEVIL INSIDE ME) (China, 2011, 93′) Dir./Scr. Zhangi Qi[Screening in Asian New Talent Award competition]

Lin Yan (Kelly Lin) wakes up screaming from a nightmare of drowning every night. She is the recent recipient of a heart transplant and when a little girl in the street one day tells her that she has the voice of the girl’s former music teacher, Miss Jiangbei, Lin begins investigating the details of her organ donor. Though keen to keep Lin from digging deeper into the organ donor’s history, Lin’s surgeon, Dr Jiang Mu (Tony Leung Ka Fai), feels very much obliged to accompany her on her search, that leads to a house she has not only seen in her dreams, but that she seems to know like it was her own. The house was Miss Jiangbei’s and her bereaved partner (Victor Huang), explains to Lin the strange circumstances of Miss Jiangbei’s death – apparently a suicide. The central conceit of the film is based on the theory of tissue memory and as Lin finds her memories mingling more and more with those of Miss Jiangbei, it becomes apparent that foul play was involved and Miss Jiangbei’s secret lover, referred to only by his X-shaped birthmark, is the most likely suspect. But who is X? Why would he kill Miss Jiangbei? How can Lin free herself from the haunting influence of Miss Jiangbei’s life and memories? What’s so devilish about this Miss Jiangbei, anyway?

Within THE DEVIL INSIDE ME there are many intriguing and original ideas clawing to free themselves from the mediocre treatment that holds them captive. Playwrite Zhang Qi’s feature film debut has the potential to be a fantastic genre piece, but it fails miserably to entertain. Whether thwarted by the hysterical, over-bearing soundtrack, the workman-like cinematography or the script’s distinct lack of any real threat, THE DEVIL INSIDE ME never looks like it’s going to turn itself around. It simply muddles along; never making the distinction between psychological thriller and horror, never delivering shocks or thrills.

Visually there is at least some accomplished artistry to be had. The interior designs are stunning and Lin’s house would likely suit Dario Argento down to the ground. But despite some smart compositions, Zhang Qi ultimately wastes his art director’s brilliant work by losing everything in increasingly muddled visual storytelling. As it is, the plot is quite ponderous – a fact not helped by the audience being thrown into the depths of Lin’s crisis with no sense of the status quo that is being disrupted by her transformation. To compensate, the soundtrack is cranked to 11 and deployed mercilessly at even the slightest hint that something might be amiss in the scene.

But THE DEVIL INSIDE ME suffers most from two problems that are unforgivable in the psychological thriller/horror genre. Most irritatingly, the fact that every major and minor plot point, clue and memory is spelled-out, flashed-back to and then repeated in voice-over throughout the film. When Lin sees Miss Jiangbei’s unmistakeable house, we flashback to her dream in which it first appeared. When she notices the birthmark on the arm of “X”, we flashback to her reading Miss Jiangbei’s diary aloud and hear the text about the X-shaped birthmark repeated, even though everyone has spent the last 45 minutes in pursuit of “X”! A dog could not fail to connect the dots that make-up THE DEVIL INSIDE ME and yet Zhang Qi seems to think that his audience would almost certainly be lost without bombastic flash-backs. This lack of faith in the audience’s intelligence results in the film’s greatest problem: every twist is as predictable and unsurprising as the rising and setting of the sun. The only surprises to be had come with insight into the villainous “X”‘s motivation, but by this time most viewers will doubtless have been checking their watch every three minutes.

I have a lot of time for imperfect films driven by strong, original ideas but THE DEVIL INSIDE ME is an example of a film so wasteful of its brilliant premise that it inspires more bile than sympathy. Here’s hoping that the rash of Hollywood remakes of Asian genre movies doesn’t grind to a halt before someone takes another stab at doing this premise some justice.

Choosak Iamsook in SATURDAY KILLER

>>> มือปืนดาวพระเสาร์ (SATURDAY KILLER) (Thailand, 2010, 91′) Dir./Scr. Yuthlert Sippapak – DP. Tiwa Moeithaisong – Music. Origin Kampanee – Edit. Tawat Siripong – Prod. Tawatchai Panpakdee/Yulthert Sippapak [Screening in Thai Week block]

The second installment (but first release) of Yuthlert Sippapak’s Killer Trilogy is billed as the lighter comedy entry and clearly radiates greater commercial appeal for its native market. However, in contrast to the as yet un-released first entry, FRIDAY KILLER, it is muddled at best, directionless at its worst. FRIDAY KILLER’s powerful narrative cohesion and successful juggling of down-to-earth drama, perfunctory action and surreal humor is here replaced by undefined political undertones, a rom-com-style love story, predictable dramatic plotting (when it appears) and a far less sophisticated brand of comedy.

Tee Rifle (Choosak Iamsook) is another legendary Thai hit-man, known for his illusiveness and sharp-shooting prowess. To the rest of the world he is the Phoenix of Bang Pla Ma. In his personal life he is the Sparrow of Bang Pla Ma, suffering from constant premature ejaculation. This, coupled with his fatness and general awkwardness around women, is his greatest adversary in the battle to win the heart of beautiful policewoman Chris (Sirin Horwang), whose wretched love-life has convinced her that all men are ever motivated by is sex. Falling hopelessly in love with Chris, Tee Rifle eventually becomes her unlikely object of desire because of his flat refusal to try any moves on her. In addition to this, he is also the man contracted to kill her father, a campaign manager for one of the region’s many warring political factions, whose significance in the film is never really made clear.

But before anyone goes thinking that SATURDAY KILLER is a romantic comedy about a lovable hit-man, it should be established that the film suffers greatly from its lack of will-they-won’t-they romantic intrigue or hit-man action. Instead, the majority of the running time is given over to Tee Rifle’s various attempts to solve his premature ejaculation problem, which one ill-advised potion then turns into an impotence problem. The plot is so aimless in its indulgence of the non-stop (but not always unfunny) dick jokes, that even the neat plot device of Tee Rifle requiring one million baht to go to Japan for a cure does not pay-off with any succession of action sequences. Instead the only appreciable action sequence is one viewers lucky enough to have seen FRIDAY KILLER are already privy to.

In stark contrast to her role in BANGKOK TRAFFIC (LOVE) STORY, Sirin Horwang plays a broken-hearted ice maiden, despondent at the violence perpetrated by the conniving political parties forcing her and everyone she knows to take sides in a war whose terms are not even vaguely defined. Though her relationship with Tee Rifle develops at a steady pace, it does not do so plausibly and is ultimately ham-strung by how easily she picks up a gun and a taste for shooting it. When compared with the affecting emotional journey made by the murder-averse Dao in FRIDAY KILLER it’s hard to believe that this film is the product of the same creative team.

Though Sippapak’s direction of the comic scenes and his actors remains strong, the material he is working with does not live-up to the standards set by his previous film (though this would not be an issue for the Thai audiences already familiar with SATURDAY KILLER and yet to see the unreleased FRIDAY KILLER). SATURDAY KILLER flounders in the realms of broad comedy too often and does not show itself to be half the cine-literate tour-de-force that Sippapak is capable of. Entertaining though it is, SATURDAY KILLER is, sadly, a disappointing piece of work.

^ THE DEVIL INSIDE ME trailer (Mandarin – no subs)

^ SATURDAY KILLER trailer (Thai – English subs)

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  1. Pingback: Bye Bye SIFF 2011 | FOEC

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