29 April 2008

4 Bia สี่แพร่ง

Hey, do I need to tell you that there are some spoilers? But I know you want to read it anyway.

A horror film from GTH, also the producer of the critically acclaimed Shutter, 4 Bia (in my opinion quite an awkward pun on phobia) or 4 Praeng ('an intersection' in Thai) is fun to watch. There are four mini-stories that are barely connected, probably a good sign that we nowadays are beginning to suffer from short concentration span. A long, epic film is probably too tedious and we are too lazy to follow all the action and details. These mini-stories are better, like mini-cornettos or mini-kitkat, in that they are not too formidable but cute and approachable.

I am one of those 'mini' fans, preferring of late to watch The Simpsons or CSI rather than an epic film. 4 Praeng is also enjoyable in this sense too. I think that horror films should not be too long that the audience (who nowadays are very hard to please and become increasingly sophisticated and senile at the same time) start to get bored. However, 4 Praeng is still conventional in the sense that it uses ghosts to teach moral, and at times not even a good, acceptable one.

Let me transform myself into a feminist (something quite hard to imagine!) to give examples. In the first story centering around a young woman who is confined in her cramped apartment room socialising with an unknown man through text messages. She is killed at the end, presumably because that man is already dead and finally comes to take her to live with him in a ghost world. What has she done wrong? Perhaps the moral is: don't be a slut because you may be killed by an unknown man (who happens to be handsome). Also, another moral is: don't break a man's heart, because he can take his own life and become very vengeful. Pretending to be a feminist, I couldn't help but find this short film really misogynistic, as it functions as a didactic lesson for all women out there not to be a slut. But what's wrong with that? Women also have desire and living in such a bleak urban space one is bound to desire to have a friend of the opposite gender. Why don't you punish men who are real hunters out there?

This is exactly the point that leads to gender bias in the last short film, Flight 224, in which an air hostess is asked to take care of the corpse of a princess who has earlier died from food poisoning. It turns out that the air hostess has been seeing the princess's husband and the princess becomes a ghost who tries every means possible to scare the air hostess shitless. What I find about this film is that, despite its powerful suspense, the real culprit is not brought to justice. Yes, I'm talking about the prince, who is probably seeing another woman by now. Sadly I think the princess is punishing the wrong person, who turns out to be a victim just like her.

Women are also victims in the second short film too. One of them is presumably punished because she is a slut who kisses a friend in a library. Another is dead simply because she refuses to help or do anything. But the real victim is a young abused boy who is also killed simply because he seeks supernatural help. I couldn't help but wonder what's the message of this. Does this victimized boy deserve to be killed too? Perhaps long gone are old traditional horror films where evil people are punished and good people are rewarded. In their place is a new streak of horror films where everyone dies! For what sake? Or simply for the sake of its pure spectacles of violence?

The moral of this story is: do not fall into the role of a victim or a victimiser. Just run away from them all! But doesn't it also mean that we in contemporary Thai society should just avoid 'action' or refuse to join any political event because once you let your voice be heard, you take sides. And taking sides can be very dangerous ...

Another moral: violence sells.

Let me finish this review with the third story, which involves four young men camping in a forest. Perhaps for me it's the allegory of all four male directors who have done a great job in delivering good horror films that keep the audience in suspense all through (though I don't quite like the CG in some places). But does this third story also signal that these directors may not fully realise the deeper layers of the messages they convey that effectively serve the mainstream ideologies in both sexual and political dimensions. Perhaps what they have done unwittingly is carrying on the legacies of political inactivism and ruthless patriarchy through the disguise of pure violence.

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