Bangkok Haunted Review
The "Horror Anthology" is an interesting concept, one that has certainly proved popular over the years if not wholly successful. Stringing together a collection of horror shorts (usually three) that may or may not share a common theme should in theory allow the director/s to focus on atmosphere and scaring the wits out of their audience, as opposed to the story/character development and multiple acts required of a feature-length project (areas that often prove detrimental to most horror films). In this writer's opinion however these anthologies are rarely successful, often falling back on simple universal horror themes and flat characterisation that are better suited to television series past, present and no doubt future, with the likes of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and even The X-Files featuring similar stories to those found in anthology features, and often executed to similarly effective levels, if not more so in the case of The X-Files with its established emotional bonds with the central characters adding immensely to the overall experience. My opinion would appear to be shared in most regions of the world, with the format used sparingly these days - at least in terms of projects that achieve recognition outside their country of origin - with only recent efforts from Asia springing to much prominence. The subject of this review is one such example, while others include Three, its successor Three: Extremes and the soon to be released in the UK Dark Tales of Japan. All share one obvious theme, besides horror of course, and that is an internationally known and therefore marketable writer, producer, director or some combination of the three. In this case it would be writer/director Oxide Pang, best known as twin brother to Danny Pang, who together brought us The Eye and a string of dire sequels in its wake. Having directed one of the three mid-length films on this anthology expectation may very well be high for some, but what of the films and their single shared theme of "Death is not the end"?
In Legend of the Drum, the opening story of this anthology, a young lady named Jieb finds an unexpected ancient drum in amongst a delivery of antiques for her business. Conversing with one of her professor colleagues she begins to uncover the story behind the drum, one set in the early 1900s and telling of a forbidden love between half-brother and sister in a small village which is ultimately the undoing of them both. We already know the drum is linked to some form of spirit before the drum’s story begins to unfold, intercut with present time events which results in familiar scenes involving the young heroine stalking her home in search of something that may or may not be there, complete with requisite sound effects and in this case a swirling ghostly aura which becomes the one common visual link between the trio of stories in this anthology. Unfortunately this sequence and others like it mirror the low quality of acting which in turn reflects the awkward staged routines of the dance troupe seen in the flashback story being told, forgoing any hope of creating a tense atmosphere despite some effective use of sound design and camera placement. The overriding factor here though is the basic elements of the story, with the aforementioned forbidden love between a dark, hooded figure and a blossoming young girl both rather one sided and immediately foreboding the end result is never a surprise leaving us only with the details to unfold. These prove to be rather lacklustre as the story comes to a swift end.
When introduced to the second story by a trio of bland woman telling ghost stories over coffee one of them suggests we need a tale infused with erotica to enhance the evening. Enter the Black Magic Woman, or Pan to you and me, a young, sexy and somewhat desperate girl who takes to a wonder oil known as 'Ply' to attract and bed the men of her dreams. That she picks these guys up at her local nightclub begs the question 'why not just flirt with them?' but then we'd miss the ghostly proceedings as we discover the source of the oil and the curse brought upon its user. Complete with actors who manage to be even more bland and unassuming than those found in the initial segment the director here compliments them by adopting both the soft eighties synth music styling and laughable character motives to create what is essentially a piece of soft-core erotica with some vague hint of a ghost story woven in to the proceedings. Not that the erotica elements are successful mind, witness the young lady identify her prey and begin rubbing herself up against the poor man on a barge as he makes his way to work, leaving the audience to think "poor guy, last thing he wants is a boner as he walks into the office". Of course any red blooded male should be thinking the complete opposite when a beautiful woman takes a fancy to you in such a way, but complete with the musical cues and desperately lacking direction the comical response is more often than not the one raised here.
The third and final story is probably the most accessible as we follow the investigation of a detective into the apparent suicide of a young woman. Told to forget the case he is convinced this is not a cut and dry situation, sensing foul play the rugged cop takes it upon himself to follow up his initial gut feeling and begins uncovering the ladies chequered relationship with her husband and ex-boyfriend. The only hints of ghostly conduct play out in the form of subtle faces appearing in the smoky locales, a common CGI effect employed throughout the anthology and one that here is meant to suggest the ghost of the wronged woman is guiding the detective to her attacker. The story culminates in a series of twists, not all of which completely satisfy and ultimately drag the story out longer than necessary, but then with a severe lack of the paranormal up to said point I guess something was needed to make way for more ghostly activity and ensure this entry belonged in a 'horror' anthology. Directed by Oxide Pang this short story titled Revenge may very well be the best of a bad bunch, offering the most compelling and justifiable story of the anthology it still falls well short of acceptable standards in the already overcrowded Asian horror film market which ultimately leaves the two preceding offerings to flounder in their own misgivings.
One of two debut releases from fledgling new label Panik House Entertainment Bangkok Haunted is given a respectable DVD release. Fans of Limited Edition extras will want to seek out one of the first 10,000 units which offer a foil embossed, texture stamped O-Sleeve.
Picture and Sound
Presented in 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen the presentation from Panik House is one that satisfies without ever exceeding expectations. The source print used is fairly clean with just a few flecks of damage appearing over the duration, while the transfer itself is a little soft leaving background details to blend into one another. Foreground detail including characters are well defined and there is no sign of unnecessary edge enhancement or encoding problems, leaving us with a solid overall picture.
The original Thai language track is available in Dolby Digital Stereo, 5.1 and DTS 5.1 Surround offerings with the latter two your options of choice. There was little discernable difference between the Dolby Digital and DTS mixes, both sounding much the same to these ears. The actual 5.1 mix is also slightly disappointing for a horror, making little real use of the directional effects available this is certainly no demo track, but instead one inline with the overall quality of the anthology.
Optional English subtitles are provided in a clear white font and are mostly free of errors, though in Legend of the Drum there appears to be a few lines of dialogue untranslated in the first conversation between Jieb and her Professor. Spanish subtitles are also available.
Before we dive into the extras a quick note on the menu design which although attractive (and available in both English and Spanish languages), uses a wedding invitation style font on the 'Special Features' page which is rather difficult to read on a conventional television. Fortunately the list is not too long, with the majority of extra features of the text variety including some informative though outdated production notes (written before The Eye had been completed) and two essays by Asian Cult Cinema magazine contributor Art Black, one on the Pang brothers, the other on Thai cinema in general. Though not as objective as I feel he could be Art provides us with a good basic insight into both topics, detailing key films and themes along the way. Poster and Still Galleries round out the static offerings, with the former even offering DVD cover art from different regions.
The only video extra of note is a made for TV Behind-the-Scenes: The Making of Bangkok Haunted special. At thirty minutes long you might expect a detailed insight to the production process, instead you'll find fifteen minutes of clips interspersed with an obnoxious presenter who interviews several of the actors as they try and sell not just the movie but the theme of death and spirits to the unfortunate viewer. Some on-camera interviews with the directors involved offer the only moments worthy of your time, but these are so brief and few in number they become inconsequential to the overall quality of this piece. Elsewhere you’ll also find trailers for Bangkok Haunted and Omen, the second debut title from Panik House.
A 'Special Insert Card' offers a far better poster design than that which ultimately made the front cover, but other than looking nice and offering a chapter listing doesn't appear very special to me. Also included in the package is an A5 sized peel off sticker using the front cover image.
Bangkok Haunted fails to offer much in the way of entertainment, let alone the visceral thrills expected of a short horror collection, but should you find yourself drawn to this title then Panik House Entertainment have provided a well-rounded package that presents the film well and includes some decent text based extras. Avoid the making-of though; it makes the main feature look like a master piece by comparison.