Thursday, 3 April 2014

Tah Tien

Director: some Thai guy
Writer: some other Thai guy
Producer: some guy from Thailand
Cast: Sombat Methanee, Supuk Likitkul, Thep Tienchai
Year of release: 1973
Country: Thailand
Reviewed from: Thai VCD

Several reviews of Mars Men mention that the character of Yak Wat Jang, the giant Thai demon/superhero character in that Thai/Japanese co-production, also appeared in an earlier movie. Well now - here it is.

And let me tell you, folks: it’s bonkers.

In a prologue, we see a ragged-looking chap carrying a gold statue of Buddha which he has presumably stolen. Chortling with glee, he sits down at the foot of a large, gaily painted statue of Yak Wat Jang. Bad mistake. The statue lifts its staff and pounds the thief into the ground - literally. Hooray for Yak Wat Jang!

This is the last we will see of Yak Wat Jang for more than an hour.

So here’s what happens in the rest of the movie. A comet hurtles out of the sky and crashes into the sea (or at least, we see a still illustration of a comet followed by a small explosion in the water). From this comes a giant snake which crawls up onto the land and coughs up an egg. The egg is then eaten by a giant frog, which subsequently spits it out and expires. The egg promptly explodes to reveal a beautiful young woman, who somehow magically melds with the dead giant frog, who then gets up and walks away.

The snake (which we’ll see again) is basically a life-size prop. The frog is a man in a costume. It’s utterly, utterly extraordinary.

An old guy with a comedy moustache (let’s call him Roy) is riding his water buffalo along, minding his own business, when he is startled by a giant frog, which talks to him in the voice of a young woman. He takes her home to his shack, which has a tiger skin on the wall, and they share a comedy scene with a two-foot-long cigarette. Now tell me this folks: what other movie offers you a scene where an old man and a giant frog share an enormous roll-up?

Cut to an underwater kingdom where a woman with a head-dress like a cobra is discussing something with a young man who is probably her consort. I don’t know who this woman is, but we never see her again, which is a shame because it raised my hopes that this might be yet another snake-woman movie. Instead we see that old giant snake again, coming ashore and transforming into a young man (could be the one from the last scene but I really was by this point too engrossed in this weirdness to go back and check). He wears a snake-skin jerkin and red leggings and has a belt shaped like a snake. So this is a snake-man movie. Ooh, so close.

Back at Roy’s shack, we find that the frog can turn into the young woman but only does so when he’s not there. She magically creates a lot of food and drink, cushions and carpets, which impresses him, but he still thinks she’s a frog. The next day, she sees him off to work, but he sneaks back and peeks through the window, where he sees her in human form. Being a lecherous old comic relief character, he tiptoes in, grabs her from behind and steals a kiss - during which she of course transforms back into a frog.

Wait, what’s this? It’s some copyright-ignoring Sergio Leone music as another old guy rides up to Roy’s shack. He wears a stetson and a sheriff’s badge and a sarong. Clearly he’s a mate of Roy, unlike the young man dressed in black with a bandolier over his shoulder who follows him. I really didn’t understand this bit, which finishes with the young villainous guy chasing after the sheriff to give him his horse back. We never see either again, but we do get to see a giant frog chatting with a talking horse.

Okay, let’s leave Roy and Frog Girl for the moment and follow the adventures of Snake Boy as he comes across a small camp, occupied by a tall, good-looking hunter in a safari suit and his two assistants, who we’ll call Woolly Hat and Orange Vest. Snake Boy magically turns his belt into a (real) python which attacks Orange Vest, but Snake Boy then steps in and rescues him from the (drugged) snake. Snake Boy and Safari Suit swiftly become best friends.

Woolly Hat, being a lecherous young comic relief character, goes down to the river where he spies on two naked women. But who’s this coming up behind him? Why, it’s a man-in-a-crappy-suit gorilla. This movie just gets better and better. Back at the camp, the foursome pair off: Woolly Hat and Safari Suit forming one team, Orange Vest and Snake Boy the other. I assume they’re going to hunt for the gorilla but who can tell? The former pair are attacked by a rhinoceros, which consists of a combination of a dodgy puppet head and stock footage of a rhino clearly shot in a zoo.

Intermission. Change discs.

Snake Boy and Orange Vest find themselves in a rocky landscape where they see, well, a sort of dragon-dinosaur-monster. It’s about eight feel tall with a short tail, spikes up its back and a sort of beak - a stunning piece of ultra low budget suitmation. They kill it with a grenade but when Orange Vest checks the body the thing turns out to be still alive and promptly kills him. Snake Boy gives the beast a flying kung fu kick and knocks it over a cliff. Looking down, he sees that it has not only survived the fall but is now fighting a different dragon-dinosaur-monster! (This one has a longer tail and masses of big teeth.)

Wait a minute - the monsters are now fighting on top of a cliff, where they knock each other over the edge (cue shot of two monster suits being flung down a cliff). Snake Boy runs up and checks that they really are dead, despite the fact that he should technically be two cliffs above them.

Safari Suit, Woolly Hat and Snake Boy meet up back at camp where a sudden storm causes a flash flood which sweeps them and everything else away. Safari Suit is discovered the next day, unconscious, by... Roy, who is out spear-fishing. Roy takes him back to his shack where he meets and falls in love with Frog Girl (who is staying human for the moment).

We do briefly see what happened to one of the others - a bloody great crocodile (stock footage/puppet) chomps down on his limp body, causing vast amounts of blood to flow into the river. We can’t actually see if this is Woolly Hat or Snake Boy, and we never see either of them again.

Safari Suit and Frog Girl go to Bangkok where they visit various temples and speak with an ancient, white-haired hermit who magically disappears. Finally, 76 minutes into the film, Yak Wat Jang reappears. The young couple admire the 15-foot tall giant statue then discover the Buddha from the prologue hidden in some shrubbery. While Safari Suit is taking that somewhere, Frog Girl transforms into her amphibian persona and talks with Yak Wat Jang who magically turns into a human version of himself, retaining the extravagant costume and with a hat depicting the statue’s scary face.

Now appears the weird old man statue character who we previously saw in the cobbled-together-from-TV-episodes abomination Yak Wat Jang wu Jumbo A. Frog Girl turns him into a human version of himself too. The two gods argue like little children and eventually start fighting. In the last few minutes of the film, we finally get to see what the inlay promised: two giant beings devastating downtown Bangkok.

Well, it’s the cheapest, least thrilling giant-vs-giant rumble ever. The only miniature on show is a bridge, next to which Yak Wat Jang trashes some toy boats. All other shots achieve the impression of gigantism by simply shooting the two costumes in Bangkok itself from a very low angle. A few shots are even done over-the-shoulder, looking down at the tiny people and cars below, by putting the costumes on a hotel balcony! Eventually, the old man statue is defeated and Yak Wat Jang turns back into a statue. Frog Girl and Snake Boy live happily ever after.

Even by my standards - and I do have standards, believe it or not - this is one of the weirdest films I have ever seen. It looks like it might be based on some ancient Thai legend about a frog princess and a snake prince or something. The scenes with the giant frog are really quite creepy, like one of those scary East German fairy tale movies. In terms of battling giant demons it’s a bit of a swizz since they’re only on screen for about five minutes. However, the two dinosaurs and the gorilla go some way towards making up for that.

The only information on this film I can find anywhere is the list of three actors on the eThaicd website. Other than that I know nothing. Oh, but what a joy to watch such weirdness. It’s cheap and tatty but it is also clearly intended, at least in part, as a comedy. Whatever, it is a unique film.

MJS rating: C+

Update: In 2008, several years after this vague review was first posted, I received a very helpful e-mail from Eric Hurd, to whom I am indebted, not least for his kind comments about this site:

“Long time listener, first time caller” as they say here on the radio in the US. I’m a big fan of your website and love reading your reviews.

"I’ve especially enjoyed reading all the stuff you’ve written on the 'Yak Wat Jang' character’s appearance in films, most notably since it is the only major mention of these babies in English! I enjoy seeking out information on unknown giant monster films, particularly foreign ones (I hope to write a book on them someday) and finding anything at all not in foreign typefaces helps my searches greatly.

"Well, in my findings, I’ve come across some added info and links you may wish to take note of for your wonderful articles, especially in light of Chaiyo and company finally getting dusted in their whole Ultraman lawsuit fiasco. Firstly, you probably know good ol’ Yak is a character taken from real life, specifically from the statues in front of the temples in Wat Chaeng and Wat Pho (see these pictures). I’ve found that there is some sort of classic mythology there, which is the basis for the Tah Tien movie. The grey stone fellow is apparently, another temple guardian, which seems to go by the name 'Yak Wat Pho', pretty much due to his location. This was confirmed by a couple references to the same statue by that name online.

"In the picture link I mentioned above, Wat Pho’s picture is a couple shots down on the page. Note also the two Wat Jang guardians in the first two pictures on the page. Both ‘guard’ the same building on either side. One is the ‘movie’ green color while the other is white and seemingly painted in the colors of Chaiyo’s Hanuman! You wonder if that's where they came up with them? Note also the many varieties of stone guardian statues on the page, particularly the armless female. There was definitely wasted giant creature material there, I tell you.

"Meanwhile, another page has surfaced, showing some information on Tah Tien in English. It appears to be from a 2006 screening and gives a little more detail, chiefly that the two giants were fighting over money! You may also take notice of the biased information on Chaiyo creating Ultraman- Bwa ha ha ha!!!!!

"And finally, there may be even one more appearance by the big green guy, this time teamed with Chaiyo’s other franchise player, Hanuman! (I was always surprised this wasn’t an obvious pairing from the get-go.) Made in 1984, some 10 years after the last Yak appearance at the time (Tah Tien being made in 1973 and the first Jumborg Ace and Giant pairing coming in ’74- dates found by cutting and pasting the original language into online film databases), it’s called The Noble War aka Suk Kumpakan and is supposedly based on the Ramayana. It, like the others, is available at"

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