1 Disc (Distributor: MVM Entertainment) Running time: 104 minutes approx.
Aspiring actress Ting (Pitchanart Sakakorn) finally gets her big acting break, albeit an unusual one when she is asked by Lieutenant Te (Kiradej Ketakinta) to play the victims in police reconstructions for murder cases. After earning much praise for her work, Ting is asked to portray her idol, a former Miss Thailand, Meen (Apasiri Nitibhon), allegedly murdered by her husband Dr. Jarun (Pitchanart Sakakorn). Meen’s body was never found but as the job rolls on, Ting begins to find herself becoming possessed by Meen’s spirit.
In case this sounds like another corny Asian horror flick about a cursed soul looking for vengeance from the afterlife, think again. Halfway through the film there is a huge twist which turns the entire story on its head and take it into a new dimension. To elaborate would be to spoil but writer/director Monthon Arayangkoon clearly wishes The Victim – or to give it its original Thai title Phii khon pen – to stand out from the rest of the Ringu clones. These ambitions may not be completely fulfilled, treading as it does along some familiar paths, but has enough interesting takes on the old ideas to feel fresh, making for a worthwhile watch. It may not be wall to wall scares but the tension building, and brooding, expectant atmosphere Arayangkoon creates is unquestionably unnerving at times, thanks in huge part to the believable performance of leading lady Pitchanart Sakakorn.
Just another girl looking to break into TV and films, Ting at least recognises that the police reconstruction gig is as good as any for gaining some acting experience. Ting is neither pretty nor unattractive, making her a more convincing heroine, although when she is dolled up to play the glamorous Meen it is hard to believe they are the same girl. Her roles as “female murder victim” require her to do little but scream, pretend to be killed and lie still for a few minutes. Unbeknownst to Ting, however the ghosts of the victims appear on set once the cases have been solved, as though to thank Ting for allowing them to rest in peace.
Later, in preparation for her role as Meen, Ting is practicing a dance Meen was famous for, suddenly realising she is being guided by a ghostly presence which she can see in the mirror but not elsewhere. Taking the method acting approach, Ting throws herself into trying to become Meen rather than just emulate her, only to find herself whisked away to a dark place in her mind where a spectral Meen admits her husband is innocent. During the course of the reconstruction, as Ting no longer plays Meen, she slowly seems to become her, causing great concern for all around her.
Spiritual possession is a favourite theme of the horror genre and Arayangkoon is clearly aware of this, hence the mid story diversion which allows him to explore it from a different angle. Little touches make one wonder where the point of possession begins – is it in the jewelled headpiece Ting has to wear for the dance, when Ting is made up to look like Meen? Or is it simple in Ting’s mind from being an obsessive fan? The second half of the film is where the true horror begins, as the these themes are examined further, turning the original story on its head and into new and disturbing territories. Occasionally it trips over itself in blurring the lines between reality and fiction, with the story becoming muddled with non-salient material or pointless red herrings. However, things are brought back in line for the big reveal which again won’t be as obvious as you may think.
Since the J-Horror boom of the late 90’s has produced numerous takes on the same old themes stemming from across all of Asia, it is difficult to create something totally original in both story and frightening content. This film certainly takes many of its cues from its vast number of predecessors but doesn’t suffer too much as result, managing to remain on the opposite side of derivative, helped by the quality of the performances and the high end production values. There are a few little continuity niggles for the keen (nay pedantic) eye – for example when Ting is dancing in front of the mirror with ghost Meen, the movements in the reflection do not match those in front of it. But this thankfully doesn’t serve as too much of a distraction.
Arguably the film’s greatest asset is its star Pitchanart Sakakorn, who has her work cut out for her in taking her character(s) through a number of personal and mental transitions in the first half alone before we get the second half. Even if her screams become very grating after a while, Sakakorn is almost chameleon like in the way she adapts herself to the various persona she has to adopt in what in essence is the same role. At first she doesn’t look like much with little signs of being able to emote anything beyond a starstruck kid but by the end of the film, she will have the audience fearing for her life with a simple quiver of her lips and a tear in her wide eyes. It is a shame that there are no extras on this DVD release, as it would have been interesting to see an interview with Miss Sakakorn and get her feelings on this multi-faceted role.
The Victim is a brave film in that it tries to subvert an established genre and even with the superb mid film twist, falls too easily into the conventions it wants to avoid. That said it does what it does very well and manages to remain unpredictable to the end, deserving attention at least from the most hardcore of Asian horror fans, who should lap this up with fervour
Rating – ***
Man In Black