Nov 10, 2014

Review: Nang nak [Nang-Nak] (1999)

Thai cinema is a relatively unexplored corridor of Asian cinema as a whole for me. I'm far more familiar with movies from China, Hong Kong and Japan. Strangely enough though, I seem to be pretty familiar with Thai director Nonzee Nimibutr's work, albeit as a producer. He's produced titles like Bangkok Dangerous (not the remake with Nicolas Cage) and Jan Dara which I've seen. But Tears of the Black Dragon seems to be the most well known of all his productions which is still on my watch list. 

The story of Nang-Nak is based on a very famous Thai legend about a man who has to leave his pregnant wife as he goes to fight in a war. Unbeknownst to him, his wife dies during child birth but still finds her there to greet him when he comes back home. Nothing seems to be amiss but in reality, his wife and baby son are ghosts. It might sound like I've spoiled the story if you're reading this, but the movie does this itself in the first ten minutes anyway with narration, so don't worry. I haven't done anything the movie doesn't do itself.


Genre: horror, romance, war
Directed by: Nonzee Nimibutr
Produced by: Nonzee Nimibutr, Visute Poolvoralaks, Chanajai Tonsaithong
Written by: Wisit Sasanatieng
Music by: Chatchai Pongprapaphan, Pakkawat Vaiyavit
Running time: 100 minutes
Production company: Tai Entertainment
Distributed by: Tai Seng Video Marketing, Solar Films, Kino Video, etc.
Country: Thailand
Language: Thai
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Intira Jaroenpura, Winai Kraibutr, Manit Meekaewjaroen, Pramote Suksatit, Pracha Thawongfia



Mak (Winai Kraibutr) is conscripted and sent off to fight in the Siamese-Vietnamese War, leaving behind his pregnant wife Nak (Intira Jaroenpura). Mak almost dies but is able to pull through due to some help from a Buddhist monk. Nak ends up dying due to complications during child birth, as does the baby. However once Mak makes his way home, he sees his devoted wife Nak standing there with their newborn son. Although he doesn't know it at first, Nak is now a ghost and is his son.


Nang-Nak definitely seems like a pretty strange mix of genres at first glance. It's not really a war movie though despite some early scenes. I'd categorize it more as a drama because there's definitely a fair amount of it and pretty good drama too. It's a charming story in the sense that Nak loves Mak so much that she stays behind as a ghost to be with her husband. Nak seems to be a bit overly subservient in a way, but you can't forget that this is 1830's Thailand. Mak also seems to treat Nak very well too anyway which is nice.

Like I had said before, the big twist is revealed through narration before the film really begins. There was no point in doing other really anyway because the legend Nang-Nak is based on is very famous throughout Thailand. So even though you already know the truth as a viewer, scriptwriter Wisit Sasanatieng is able to weave the story in a way that is interesting and makes you worry for Mak's well-being. Once we get to the point where everything is revealed, it's a good sequence of scenes that's actually pretty tense.

Nang-Nak isn't really all that scary overall though. You could easily consider the the movie as more of a thriller and it should probably be re-categorized in that way too. There are some creepyish scenes but nothing that's truly horrifying. The scenes which are meant to be on the scarier side remain mostly unconvincing. 

Nang-Nak is still a pretty well constructed film. Nonzee Nimibutr gets the most out of all his filming locations and I like the set for Mak and Nak's home. As things become clearer and clearer for Mak, the house becomes more and more unkempt, rotting before his eyes. Intira Jaroenpura is also perfect for Mak and she pulls off this creepy crying thing very well where she's basically begging for Mak to come to her. I'm also a fan of the score as well.

So although Nang-Nak doesn't pack much in terms of actual scares, it's rich in drama and pairs that very nicely with its more fantastical/thriller elements. Nonzee Nimibutr makes it all look like we really are in rural Thailand in the 1830's and he utilizes his surroundings more than adequately. You wouldn't think that Nang-Nak is only the second movie that he ever directed. 



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