HA PRAENG a.k.a. HA PHRAENG [PHOBIA 2 | 5 แพร่ง]


Thailand 2009   Directed by: Paween Purijitpanya, Visute Poolvoraluks, Songyos Sukmakanant, Pakpoom Wongpoom, Banjong Pisanthanakul   Cast: Nicole Theriault, Marsha Vadhanapanich, Voravej Danuwong, Charlie Trairat, Wiwat Kongrasri, Pongsatorn Jongwilas, Nattapong Chartpong, Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk

HA PRAENG (internationally marketed as PHOBIA 2, since it’s the kind-of-successor of 4-BIA (SI PRAENG)) on the one hand refers to the five episodes the film consists of. The title however can be literally translated as “five paths”. The word “praeng” describes a place where spirits live (spirits not necessarily being ghosts in the same sense westerners would refer to them), whereas the common phrase sam praeng (“three paths”) describes a crossing of three roads or a T-junction, with one end being the place where the spirits live. Certainly not a good location to build your house there, I’d say.

HA PRAENG essentially is a collection of ghost stories that fundamentally deal with retaliation for committed sins: according to buddhist karma sinners are haunted by spirits or ghosts as punishment. This is best illustrated by the impressive first episode NOVICE where a teenager who committed a “fun crime” is sent to monks living in a forest in order to pray for forgiveness. Coincidentally an annual ritual is about to take place, one that is supposed to please the “hungry ghosts” of the forest. The “hungry ghosts” are a well-known Thai (and Asian) legend (some might call it a fairytale). They are forest spirits large as trees, and who feels that the idea has been borrowed from LORD OF THE RINGS is wrong by the way.

One evening the young monk begins to see the hungry ghosts and one of them is really messing with the monk. We think to know why, but NOVICE keeps the crucial twist for the bitter end. The finale, in principle quite simple, is nevertheless difficult to watch due its dramatic turn and raw nature. NOVICE is a welcome comment on the progressing moral decline of our societies, and it’s fun to see that this asshole is getting it big time in return for what he’s done. Bravo.

In the second episode WARD the victim of an accident is put in a hospital room together with an old patient. Although that patient is supposed to die the next day as his life supporting machines will be switched off, the young man believes to see him moving around at night – until he even attacks the student and tries to kill him with his bare hands. Or was that only a dream? WARD is clearly the weakest film of the anthology. The Script is too vague and deviates clearly from the concept of HA PRAENG. Although it’s a solid episode (the CEO of the production company himself turned director for the first time) its story is neither original nor can it surprise us. WARD is quite entertaining however and is therefore not a total failure, however it’s also not representative for the overall quality of HA PRAENG.

The following episode called BACKPACKERS is clearly more interesting: two hitchhiking Japanese tourists are picked up by a truck driver and his pal. Suddenly they hear noise from the rear end of the truck, and it turns out that the truck is filled with drug couriers who have just died a horrible death. The condoms – not of the best quality it appears – in which the drugs had been smuggled have burst and killed all of the couriers almost instantly. Things go completely haywire when the first dead courier returns to life and attacks one of the tourists – the zombies are on the loose and take revenge for the negligent way they were treated before.

BACKPACKERS is perhaps the first real zombie film from Thailand and is really great: it might not be very original, but compensates with extreme speed. The whole segment is very tense, nerve-ripping, fast and brutal. Romero and Boyle would be proud. Finally a zombie film with reason: not only when there’s no more room in hell the dead return, but also when they’ve died by the hand of an idiot. BACKPACKERS is a great homage and a very clever adaptation into the Thai way of thinking. On top of it it’s pure rock’n roll and marks the peak of HA PRAENG – for now.

In the fourth installment SALVAGE an unscrupulous car dealer makes a fortune by selling used cars. The problem: all of the cars had accidents involving deaths, a fact the dealer doesn’t tell the prospects. All goes well until one evening her son vanishes on the dealership premises. The search for him becomes ever more desperate and mysterious and ends with a pretty sad twist. SALVAGE knows how to increase the tension continuously without complicating things. The ending feels uncomfortably real and tells us that we can’t get away with unethical, questionable behavior forever. There are no shortcuts in life.

The final episode then is a true highlight and a worthy conclusion: KHON GONG, literally “film crew“, tells the story of a film crew that is about to wrap their latest horror flick production. Unfortunately the actress who plays a ghost gets very sick and must be admitted to hospital. From then on its pure madness and after numerous crazy plot twists the film ends with a twinkle in the eye.

KHON GONG is a masterpiece, a creative work of art that makes fun of an entire genre, if not the whole movie industry. It masterfully plays with our expectations and uses all possible cinematic clichés against us. It is intelligently written, brilliantly executed and makes us die laughing. After two hours of shock and awe KHON GONG is a welcome change and most probably the best ghost movie without ghosts ever. Genius!

HA PRAENG is an intelligent and exciting horror movie series. With all its outstanding stories and first-class cinematic qualities it makes for a real treat that stands apart from most horror movies of last year. It’s a very serious shock fest rooted in real life, showing situations we can relate to, the daily insanity, and blurring the borders between our world and the world of the spirits and demons.

A colleague recently wrote that Asians produce the best ghost movies, because they believe in spirits and produce films for a public that grew up the same way, with spirits as social reality and hence being very open for such stories. HA PRAENG illustrates this perfectly. In short: the best horror film of 2009 is from Thailand. Keep them coming.


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