Friday, 28 March 2014

The Poison

Director: Ch Ratchapol
Writer: Yodnam
Producer: Jirun Rattanaviriyachai
Cast: Nantawat Arsirapojanakul, Julaluck Kittiyarat, Sushao Phongwilai
Year of release: 2002
Country: Thailand
Reviewed from: Thai VCD

In the jungles of Thailand, a group of young men gather, armed with swords and bows. In another part of the forest, atop a sort of altar thing, a ceremony is taking place. A young woman in a white dress stands before a priest. Behind her is an older woman (her mother?) in a blue dress, and numerous villagers are stood around.

The girl in white (let’s call her Su) gives the priest a small statue. He invites her to touch a sort of stone font with a candle in the centre; when she does so a small, golden snake magically appears from her arm and melts into a pool of blood-like liquid which runs down carved grooves in the stone into a brass cup. The priest takes this cup and anoints a baby held by one of the other women.

Suddenly the men we saw at the start attack, brutally cutting down men and women left right and centre. There are even young boys of 12 or 13 hacking away with their swords. Only Su (Julaluck Kittiyarat aka Ying Jularuck, also in epic mermaid-vs-giant fantasy Phra-Apai-Mani), her mother and the priest escape to a big temple, but the young men follow them there. The priest is cut down, Su’s mother is grabbed and spits two jets of poison from her open mouth into a man’s face, but is then killed with a flaming arrow in the back.

Bad idea. Su glowers, her eyes glow, her skin starts to change colour, and before our eyes she transforms into an eighty-foot long giant cobra! She whips men with her tail, crushes men in her coils - and we even get a quick POV shot as she eats one whole.

Eleven minutes in and this is instantly the best snake-woman film I have ever seen! (And regular readers will know that it’s a genre I’m very fond of!) This isn’t just a very large snake, this is a supernaturally giant serpent rendered in very good CGI. If Bert I Gordon was alive today and making snake-woman films, this is what he would make.

The only downside is that this VCD, distributed by Right Beyond, has no English subtitles. That’s why Su (and everyone else) will have to have made-up names in this review. There are apparently English subs on the DVD - maybe I should have spent that extra five dollars.

One hundred years later...

Five young men and a woman, laden with cameras and video-cameras, arrive at the altar. I think they’re shooting some footage for the Discovery Channel or something. The altar looks a good location but one guy (let’s call him Andy) is unhappy about shooting at what was obviously once a sacred place. So they all pack their equipment again and set off. Across a river, through an amazing cave.

As they walk through the jungle, Andy is suddenly shot dead. And so are three of the others. This is a shocker. We’ve spent the past ten minutes with these people and assumed that they were the main characters. Now suddenly they’re under attack from a couple of dozen bandits armed with M-16s and AK-47s. The leader of the video team (let’s call him Joe, played by Nantawat Arsirapojanakul aka Tor Nantawat: Lhob Pai Tang Ar-kad, Bullet Teen, Rang Pen Fai, Hunch) shoots back with an automatic pistol as he leaps for cover (someone has been watching too many John Woo movies, methinks).

Joe escapes, along with a moustachioed guy but to be honest there’s no point inventing a name for him because he took a hit and he dies shortly afterwards.

The bandits - whose leader wears a Ramones T-shirt! - make their way through the forest and suddenly come across a young woman who seems to appear from nowhere. It’s Su, dressed in white still though a more modern dress. They challenge her but are distracted when one of their number is bitten by a snake, and when they look back she’s gone. The bandits continue through the jungle but suddenly find themselves surrounded by hundreds of snakes which attack and kill several of them, including the Ramones fan.

Joe is hungry, tired and lost when he comes across Su sitting by the river. She takes him to the temple, which is well lit with flaming torches, and explains something that is probably important but I don’t speak Thai. At one point there’s an insert shot of her naked except for a twenty-foot snake strategically wrapped around her.

In the dark jungle - actually it’s extremely well-lit, considering that it’s the middle of the night - the bandits continue under a new leader, whom we’ll call Zack. He spots a snake in a tree ahead and shoots it. Back at the temple, Su feels a sharp pain in her arm. She goes out into the jungle to confront the bandits but they evidently now know who/what she is because they hold her with two magically glowing lassoes. But Joe appears and shoots through both ropes, makes the bandits drop their weapons, then helps a weakened Su back to the temple. He spots a patch of scales on her shoulder and she explains everything to him, including flashbacks to the prologue.

To be honest, the film goes downhill on the second disc and I had to keep reminding myself “Eighty-foot cobra, eighty-foot cobra...” to stay interested. Joe carries Su through the jungle to a road where the video team parked their vehicles - blimey, that’s easily found! He takes her home and tends to her and there are lengthy, soft-focus romantic scenes. With no subtitles, these are just boring.

Then who should turn up, in a very expensive red sports car, but Joe’s girlfriend Amanda (or whatever), evidently very rich and beautiful but not a truly nice person. Joe explains that he has found someone new and she slaps him and runs out crying - straight into Zack...

Another night-time scene of Su and Joe together by a lake is interrupted by the arrival of Zack and co., with Amanda and with plenty of guns. Jealous Amanda grabs a pistol and shoots at Su but Joe leaps forward to protect her and takes three bullets in the back. Su is mad now and does the eighty-foot cobra thing again - yay! - but rather than attacking Zack and Amanda she just grabs Joe in her coils and disappears into the lake.

Back at the temple, Joe is stretched out on the stones and Su is praying to a broken statue of an eight-armed god. Zack, Amanda and the bandits arrive and there is a tense stand-off. Unfortunately, rather than another giant cobra, we get the clichéed spectacle of Zack and Su blasting bolts of magical energy at each. She knocks out all the bandits and knocks down but doesn’t stun Amanda, but Zack has her cornered when - zap! - Joe comes to her rescue with his own bolts of magic.

That’s right, once again we have someone with no magical ability suddenly acquiring it in the final scene to save the day. It’s a shame the cobra didn’t reappear but as if to make up for this, Su turns Amanda into a snake which slithers away.

The first disc starts with unavoidable trailers for dreadful Vin Diesel action stinker A Man Apart, the latest one-word-will-do film from Nu Image Submarines (which evidently reuses sets and CGI models from Octopus) and Japanese scarecrow horror flick Takashi. After the film finishes, disc 2 has trailers for Australian train-surfing film The Pact and Hong Kong human-canine soul-swap comedy Every Dog Has His Date.

Nantawat Arsirapojanakul and Julaluck Kittiyarat seem to be quite big stars in Thailand (Julaluck has even released her own yoga video!) but I can find nothing on any of the other cast. If you know anything at all about Sushao Phongwilai, Lakkhet Wasikachart, Tasanawalai Ongartsittichai, Krt Suwanaphap, Yanwisat Bokert, Orawan Terrakirilin, Jinsujee Namthong, Arch Wangtaweephaiboon, Sakwich Timsan, Tanapon Teerasin or Thuanthong Teerawat Phokasap - please drop me a line!

Nor can I find anything else directed by Ch Ratchapol, though that certainly doesn't mean he hasn’t done anything else. The excellent cinematography is by Artit Hongrat with special effects by Michelle Thi and Jeab Ssi.

The Poison (original title Asirapis) is a mixed bag. A terrific first half is let down by a slow, talkie second half (though I’m sure it’s more interesting if you can understand what they’re talking about) and the ending, though it notches up the interest again, is an unimaginative hoary old ‘you zap me, I’ll zap you’ cliché. But that can’t take away the fact that the production values are top-notch, the effects are great, the direction is slick, the acting good, the cinematography superb and, most importantly, a woman turns into a giant cobra! The first eleven minutes alone are worth the price of admission and although this VCD was very good quality (almost no artefacting) I would recommend the DVD.

MJS rating: B+

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