With a certain holiday (if we can call it that this year) around the corner, let’s do a ghost story. And in this case, let’s talk about a ghost story that made so much money in Thailand that it became their highest grossing film, by being made on a budget of $1,800,000 and leaving the cinema with $33,000,000. The Ghost under the big bright headlight is Lady Nak – an intricate part of Thai local folklore from the time of King Rama IV (1851-1868). This is Pee Mak, available as of this review on Netflix.
As mentioned, set in mid 1800s Siam (during a time when King Mongkut was in power and when the whole area was plagued by wars), our story revolves around a husband, wife, and four soldiers who accompanied the husband home. The husband is Mak (played by Mario Maurer), his wife is Nak (played by Davika Hoorne), and Mak’s fantastic four are Aey (Moustache), Ter (Glasses), Shin (Top Knot) and Puak (horned curtains). The Men were all involved in the war and end up becoming best friends after Mak saves their lives in a battle. Meanwhile, Nak is alone and experiencing a difficult birth, and shortly afterwards rumours went around town that she died during labor and had become a very powerful ghost. The fear was to the point that when the five men arrive in Mak’s village in the evening, there is nobody around. Upon arriving home, Mak then introduces them to his wife, and because it was too dark to continue travelling, they all decide to stay…However the four friends start to become suspicious. Believing that Nak is actually a ghost and Mak is completely oblivious to this fact.
Now to talk about what’s real and what isn’t:
The Acting is comedic for the most part while also applying elements of horror and romance, depending on which scene is happening. Many-a-times I found myself watching this as if is the equivalent of a spoof to another film telling this story. There’s nothing wrong with that, and the horror aspect is less scary and more grotesque anyway Classical. A part of me feels that you have to have family members or friends that remind you of these characters in order to get the fullest enjoyment of their performance, because otherwise they could potentially fit the credentials of any variation of the Stand By Me kids that also includes someone out to get them.
The Characters consists of 2 leads, 4 supporting, and quite a few extras. The extras are the soldiers and the villagers, with the villagers mostly there to advance the plot a little, in particular the town drunk and her son. Like I said about the acting, I’d say the characters are more like everyday people and designed to remind you of folk you know. The only character who stands out as being evidently different is obviously Nak, who plays a great straight-role while everyone else is more on the funny side. Mario Maurer’s Mak is pleasantly dim in his own way while Davika Hoorne’s Nak is very good at switching between possibly alive and possibly a ghost.
The Story is based on the local legend, while at the same time this is very much a comedic take on it. Rather than being told from Nak’s point of View, which is what many tellings of the story do – it is told from Mak’s perspective instead, hence why the film is called Pee Mak (or Brother Mak). Humour prevails throughout the film as Mak’s friends try to tell him the truth while doing their best to not be killed by Nak by being blatantly obvious, or possibly slanderous in the accusation. It is a matter of them seeing her as a ghost while Mak appears to be either under a spell or illusion or he might actually be foolish. We are then given a small mystery element, causing us to ask ourselves “what is real and what isn’t”. A part of me also considers possible themes of control. Along the lines of a wife telling her husband that he can’t go out with his friends. Other times it’s about the themes of truth vs gossip, privacy vs public knowledge and love regardless of circumstance.
The Music, and especially how it was used or edited is…a matter of preference. If you have ever seen trailers for American Movies and how they cut the music in order to tell a joke or punchline that is meant to cause the audience to laugh somehow…Well, that technique is used a fair amount here. We’re presented with something dramatic or spooky, and then the music cuts as a line of dialogue is being used as a foil. However, the music that’s played during the scenes between Mak and Nak on their own (at home, the fair and so on), such as Want To Stop The Time by Palmy are really lovely.
The CGI/Special Effects go back and forth in quality with the practical effects being better than the CGI. As far as I can see, the CGI is minimal. Such as the bees coming out of the hive, that one was evident. On other occasions some cinematography choices allowed a by-pass on certain effects, and at other times, some effects are all that’s needed – such as the presentation of extended limbs. Then you have other special effects such as the presentation of cadavers, which were actually well done, though pretty graphic in their own right…even though it’s a comedy, it is also horror after all.
The Art style is great. Excellent sets and a good use of neutral colours and lighting, especially for the ghost scenes. The tree houses by the river are a nice setting. Nothing feels like a set, and everything feels organic. Even the practically effects are very earthy.
The Cinematography is quite good. Parts of the film were shot in such a way that less CGI was needed, and the lighting of Mak’s home along with the river was nicely done. Pleasantly atmospheric, even though it is technically a horror setting.
Would I recommend Pee Mak? Yes I would, because I think it’s a film that should be seen at least once regardless of your background. In my opinion it is a film that is best experienced by anybody who lives in Thailand or visit very regularly. Anybody who knows the language, the customs (Such as why everyone in this film has black teeth), the mannerisms, the folklore, the humour and the characters that could be met along the way. It can be argued that it’s a Thai film for a Thai audience and I can respect that. At that same time, I did find it amusing and thought it was pretty well made.
CGI/Special Effects: ***1/4