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Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Ta (2013)

Director: Kunlakan Chanakan Mamber
Stars: Chamnan Suwannaruang, Kittayaporn Yimyam, Butsaba Konyong, Chalarak Thanurak and Pannaree Chaipaew
This film was an official selection at the Filmstock Arizona 2013 round of the revolving Filmstock film festival. Here's an index to my reviews of all selections.
I have a fondness for horror films from countries you wouldn't expect, though Thailand hasn't been on my unexpected list for a while. Having already expanded from Japan to South Korea, I found Thai films through the work of Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Oxide Pang and explored from there. Films like Dorm and Shutter obviously took influences from those more prolific countries but had a feel all of their own. The growing importance of Tony Jaa can't hurt, as his action movies are as much about Thai culture as they are about his elbows and knees. There's always something interesting about watching a horror picture set in a foreign culture and this little ghost story is no exception, even though everyone involved seems to be brand new to the business. None of the lead actors have previous credits and Kunlakan Chanakan Mamber, who wrote, edited, produced and directed, was new to all those roles, having only shot second unit on a short film and acted in a feature.

Both those were American films but this one was clearly shot back home in Thailand. Perhaps befitting a story from a female writer/director, it's told through the eyes of a trio of women: Nim and Bua, who are presumably cousins, and Prae, Nim's daughter, who turns nine as the piece begins. Prae seems to be a well adjusted young lady except that she's afraid of the ghost under her bed, which her mother assures her doesn't exist, of course. However, Nim does take it seriously and, as we later discover in a neat little twist, she ensures that Prae's birthday is spent rather productively. 'Ta' in the Lao or Isan language of northeastern Thailand means 'grandpa' and he's the key to the story. They go to see Prae's ta, paying their respects at his grave, burning incense at the neighbouring Buddhist shrine and pouring water on the ground, offering up any merit they may have earned to him in Heaven. These scenes appear to be primarily background colour and texture but, pay attention, they're more important than they seem.

I enjoyed the attention given to the setting, which was at once utterly foreign and neatly welcoming to me. It also helps ground the film before it shifts into a long flashback to when Nim and Bua were young, Ta was still alive and a possessing ghost is very much part of the picture. The story moves easily from grounded drama into ghost story, though without having to conjure up horror tropes. The actor playing Ta, Chamnan Suwannaruang, is completely believable as a down to earth exorcist, conquering not with faith and verses from a holy book but through strength of mind and inner peace. It's unsurprising that Nim misses him; without ever being overt, he seems like a wonderful ta to have grown up with. All the ladies do fine work too, both in the past and the present, impressive given that three of them are child actors without prior credits. Suwannaruang grounds the story though, which is supported well by Isan folk tunes and solid cinematography from Natarich Sawaschaipan. Yet another Thai winner.

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