Buppha Ratree has to be one of the most unconstrained films I have seen from Thailand. It’s no wonder they screened it for the Midnight Madness program at the Toronto Film Festival this year. The story is over the top, the characters are bizarre and the style that Sippapak chooses to shoot the film is uncontrollable. Nonetheless amongst this fluttering chaos great fun can be found!
At first glance Buppha Ratree is seemingly just another ghost story out of Thailand — perhaps the most common film genre that Thailand produces. At a closer look, however, director Sippapak has created a loose modern day adaptation of the famous legend of the ghost Nang Nak — nevertheless Buppha Ratree is an adaptation with the addition of steroids. One of the most common characteristics recognized about the legend is the empathy felt towards the female ghost Nak; it is through this empathy that the legend delivers its tragic message. However, Sippapak destroys any hope of the audience gaining the slightest empathy as the slap stick comedy distances the audience from Ratree’s despair. The fusion between humorous schlock horror and tragedy doesn’t seem to marry well.
Like almost all of Sippapak’s films, the characters he comes up with are totally bizarre and the bizarreness of the characters are what lend this film some humor. The down stairs deli attendant is incredibly funny — at one point during the film he has an unmotivated argument with two customers in regards to the quality of recent Thai films.
The various shamans hired to free the apartment block of Ratree’s ghost also lend their fair share of humor to the film. The third shaman to visit Ratree’s apartment takes on the form of the priest from The Exorcist (he also gets thrown up on).
Stylistically Sippapak has shown little improvement from his last outing February, at times the editing and the camera work are somewhat amateur. The very same techniques that were used in Sippapak’s early films are again employed in Buppha Ratree — e.g. vibrating camera to convey the sense of desperation. Having said that, I refuse to believe that Sippapak is aiming for stylistic ingenuity; the bizarre stories and the even more bizarre characters in his films are what make them entertaining and unique.
As messy as Buppha Ratree is, it is not bad, in fact, in this case, the mess and lack of any constraint are the aspects that make the film work. Sit back and enjoy what this film throws at you.