Thailand 2009 Directed by: Poj Arnon, Tanwarin Sukapisit, Manus Worrasingh, Chartchai Katenus Produced by: Poj Arnon Cast: Mai Charoenpura, Akkra Amartayakul, Sattawat Settakorn, Supaksorn Chaikomol, Pimolrat Pisalyabutr, Kachapa Toncharoen
TAI HONG continues where HA PRAENG only recently left off and presents four horror short stories that were inspired by real events. The segments are all linked, mostly connected by people or places. The concept behind TAI HONG is the Tai Hong: spirits of people who died a violent death. Thais believe that people killed by e.g. accidents or other unnatural circumstances do not “know” that they died the moment they did and hence become spirits that are staying among us, close to the people they knew or the places they died, until they are released into the afterlife by suitable rituals or ceremonies. In Thailand just as in many other Asian countries the belief in spirits that died of unnatural causes is common, if not common sense.
TAI HONG uses this belief to create shorts that were all inspired by headline news. The first tale BLAZE is the central element of TAI HONG and is based on the incident on New Year’s eve 2008/2009 when a fire burnt down the well-known club Santika (relabeled here as Santaka) in Bangkok. Dozens of people died in the raging fire (various videos from the evening are still on YouTube).
The segment captures the atmosphere in the club frightening well, but it was not the intention of the director to simply adapt the real events for the silver screen. Nevertheless he sticks pretty close to what’s happened and dramatizes the chain of events of that evening largely in line with what eye witnesses told local reporters.
Many may want to ask the producers if it’s not a little too early or appropriate at all to remake this tragedy into a horror film. The episode definitely does not add anything to reality – if art is supposed to explain the world and our role in it, or at least have a point and provide a new perspective of the reality surrounding us then this episode doesn’t live up to its claim. Nevertheless BLAZE is a powerful film – perhaps the best of the four – and quintessentially represents the concept of TAI HONG. Altogether it is a memorable segment, especially so for the local audience who will still remember the dramatic circumstances of the Santika fire; unfortunately this also makes BLAZE a morbid experience.
In PRISON one of the guys accused of the arson at Santika is taken into police custody where he encounters the spirit of another prisoner who hanged himself recently. This part of TAI HONG is the weakest; not only because it is, well, lifeless, but simply because it never really gets out of the starting block. In addition the script is confusing, makes little sense and deviates from the concept: now the spirit apparently knows that he is dead and becomes an avenging angel (for something that has nothing to do with the fire by the way). In short: PRISON is not terrible, but without a doubt forgettable.
The third film REVENGE makes up for the preceding episode: the relationship between the two protagonists is not very plausible, but the tragic ghost story is outright gripping. At first sight the episode seems to be conventional horror with Japanese influence (the water tank idea is undoubtedly borrowed from a popular Japanese horror film), but REVENGE remains faithful to the big idea and entertains with a somewhat odd but unique storyline. All in all part three is an interesting mixture of thriller, horror, drama and comedy and is convincing throughout – compared to BLAZE it is less cohesive, but on the other hand more creative and refreshing. Many may prefer this part to the first.
MOTEL is the last part of TAI HONG and finishes the saga in comedic style, quite like HA PRAENG. It is indeed funny and takes the idea of TAI HONG to the edge. It may not be perfectly logical, but entertains with great humor and twists until the last minute. Two dudes, a hooker, a love hotel, its owner and a bed are more than enough to carry this great story. Wonderful.
TAI HONG follows two central ideas which make or break this anthology: on one hand the Tai Hong, and secondly the “based-on-a-true-story” concept. The ghost stories are all really fresh and creative, except for part two. They are more than worth the admission fee and make TAI HONG one of the best horror films of 2010 so far.
So how about the „true stories“? Borrowing stories that were written by life itself is simple, transcending them into something meaningful beyond reality so that we can reflect and thus understand what has actually happened and learn for the future – that is anything but simply. TAI HONG obviously does not actually evaluate reality and provide any insight or perspective, but it seems that this is all a marketing trick to make the anthology more relevant than it really is. TAAI HONG may not simply exploit reality, but it still uses it as a means to an end without adding much intellectually. That is legitimate, but it also means TAI HONG cannot claim to be more than just entertainment.
With the Santika segment as a burden TAI HONG is still a really good collection of horror short stories, but it comes with a stale aftertaste that may not suit everyone.
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