It’s a wonder that any innovation at all takes place within the monster film genre, seeing as there is always a new generation of young viewers for whom all the old creatures can be trotted out and run through their familiar paces. And this is no truer for the United States than it is for Cambodia, where the horror thriller NiengArp became a surprise hit in 2004, running in theaters for a solid three months.
Nieng Arp concerns the folkloric beastie known to Cambodians as the Arp (or Ap), which will be familiar to 4DK readers as the Krasue from Thailand’s Ghost of Guts Eater, the “Flying Evil” from Taiwan’s Witch With Flying Head, and the Leak from Indonesia’s Mystics in Bali. If you are too lazy to click those links, you will be none the wiser—unless, of course, you are unable to click them because you are a levitating, disembodied head with all of your entrails dangling out of your neck hole, in which case you know what an Arp is, because you are one. Nieng Arp’s subtitles further put a bow on things by translating “Arp” somewhat awkwardly as “Bodiless Vampire.”
Our story gets under way when village girl Maya and her boyfriend are attacked by a trio of randy local hooligans as they walk through the forest at night. The boyfriend is killed and Maya is raped and left for dead. It is at this moment that an Arp just happens to fly by and “turns” Maya by dribbling some kind of goop inter her mouth from hers. Next, a subtitle appears telling us that 16 years have passed, and the fact that this is a horror movie made in the 2000’s is announced by the arrival of a vanload of boisterous college students from Pnom Penh, who are in the Battambang Province for a study tour of the area’s shrines.
This group is as lazily drawn as precedent would have you expect (the Fat Girl is pushy, constantly eats, and gets diarrhea—and there’s a gay guy named “Pompy”), but it has to be said that the purpose of their visit provides the film with most of its visual highlights.
The lush, antiquity-strewn locations through which the group tours are indeed beautiful, even if they provide the impetus for some frankly enervating travelogue sequences. First-timer Kam Chanty proves himself to be yet another novice director who can’t resist the allure of a good stairway. Thus do we watch in real time as our little group fully ascends a steep hillside to the accompaniment of light pop rock.
When it comes time for the gang to seek out their accommodations, we come to a hostel overseen by none other than Maya, played by an actress whose likeness to Suzzanna cannot be mere coincidence. Maya shares the home with Paulika, her teenage daughter. Paulika is, by all appearances, a normal teenage girl, to the extent that one might suspect she is the victim of some kind of Marilyn Munster syndrome. Mom, meanwhile, keeps her head’s tendency to go airborne on the down low—until, that is, Satha (Sovan Makara), the hunk of the visiting group, starts to woo Paulika. In a turn of events that is almost Bollywood-like in its providence, Maya somehow divines that Satha is the descendant of one of her rapists--at which point no amount of pleading from Paulika, nor solemn intervention by the village monks, can stop her.
When it comes to reviewing Nieng Arp, I find myself with a bit of a dilemma on my hands. That is because I have a strong suspicion that, in the process of transferring the film to the VCD on which I watched it, a couple of the reels were placed out of sequence. Certain scenes on the second disc are clearly from earlier in the film, and set up events that have already taken place—with, at the time, mysterious causation. These might be intended as flashbacks, or some kind of Tarantino-esque experiment with fragmented narrative, but, if so, they are poorly realized. Then again, it could all be just an accident beyond the filmmakers’ control (in which case, they can register a complaint via the phone number that helpfully scrolls across the bottom of the screen virtually the whole fucking time). Who am I to judge?
What I will say is this: With its homemade, shot-on-video feel, crude special effects, and religious conservatism, Nieng Arp reminds me of nothing so much as one of those evangelical horror films made in Nigeria or Ghanna. You can gauge your likely reaction to it by just how much more of B14 or 666: Beware the End is at Hand you could watch than their trailers. Nieng Arp, of course, might have the benefit of making a little more narrative sense than those movies, were it the case that the time-shifting in it that I witnessed was unintentional.
Anyway, after a good bit of Maya chasing the terrified students through the forest and slapping the back of their heads with her intestines, she calls out to the ghost of the Arp who made her for aid. This cackling crone proceeds to inhabit the bodies of the kids one by one and make them murder one another. Among her victims is a girl named Prathana, who betrays a pre-existing evil streak by wearing a bootleg tee-shirt that says “MIGKEY MOOSE” on it.
The VCD of Nieng Arp wraps up with a blooper reel of the cast muffing their lines and breaking character to much hilarity. It’s charming, to be sure, but to my mind unnecessary to providing the film with a happy ending. I’ve elsewhere dedicated no small amount of text to grieving the tragic end that befell Cambodia’s cinematic golden age of the 60s and 70s. After the ravages of Pol Pot (whose name is evoked in Nieng Arp as yet another shiver-inducing bogey man), the revival of that cinema was fitful and protracted, with a few bright spots amid long periods of dormancy. One of the brightest of those spots was the success of Nieng Arp, which, along with a number of other low budget horror features, prompted an uptick in film production and theater attendance in the country. All in all, it’s a heartening example of how exploitation cinema, with all its commerce-driven perseverance, can sometimes tow a nation’s entire film industry behind it into safer waters.
You might be forgiven for thinking that, with everything going on, I might have forgotten about Taiwan Noir, but nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, my life would be sorely lacking without my periodic check-ins with my old pal Kenny B, a mysterious foreigner who never fails to take me down some intriguing new back alley of Taiwanese commercial cinema. This latest episode finds us exploring the grey area between homage, plagiarism, and imitation as we discuss two films by director Chu Yen Ping that are both based, to varying degrees, on Phil Joanou's State of Grace. Listen here.
Have you been scouring the internet for a music program with the chutzpa to combine Eurovision treacle, old school punk, Northern Soul belters, and post-Soviet power pop and then somehow enfold all of that within a salute to Bollywood? Well, look no further than Pop Offensive. Wednesday's episode had all of that and more, presented with the unique combination of folksy wisdom and borderline hysterics that only Jeff Heyman and myself can provide. The episode is now available for streaming and download here, while the full playlist can be found on the Pop Offensive Facebook page.
"Bleep bloop... take me to your leader. HAHAHAHA."
Les sanguine, I'm afraid, have been the voices of our friends on the Indian subcontinent itself, who have cried both alone and in unison: "Hey, jerk. Why is your book, which is ABOUT Indian cinema, not available in India itself?" (some of them adding something along the lines of "Nice one, bozo" or "smooth move, Ex-lax"--you get the idea). And to them, I would like to say this: I would not have had it this way were it in my control. It is, in fact, something that grieves me on a daily basis. Unfortunately, we have yet to find an Indian publisher who is willing to take a risk on a book about Bollywood written by a non-Indian American. However, we are still trying our best to make it happen. In the meantime, I humbly ask that you take it as fact that our goal is to get Funky Bollywood into the hands of South Asian readers for a reasonable price as quickly as possible. Please bear with us.
On a lighter note, I recently put together this book trailer for Funky Bollywood, which I feel captures the feel of both the book and its subject pretty well. Feel free to share.
After the postponement of last month's Pop Offensive, one might expect tonight's long awaited episode to be one big, messy popgasm. However, as Jeff and I are men of refined tastes, our more delicate listeners can rest assured that we will be taking an occasional time out from the expected hosing to pay genteel tribute to the music of Bollywood--this, after all, being the month of my book Funky Bollywood's much anticipated release. Thus shall art, commerce, nuggets, and icky sexual references walk blissfully hand in hand, all streaming for your listening pleasure at 9thfloorradio.com starting tonight at 7pm Pacific time.
Hey, kids. Do you like spy movies? Europeans? Outrageous "Mad Men" era sexism? Well, are you in for a treat... because tonight the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down crew is surveilling Death is Nimble, Death is Quick, the second entry in the Kommissar X series of goofy eurospy films. All you have to do to participate is join us on Twitter at 6pm PT and, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, tweet along with us to the movie, which you can watch via the YouTube link below. It's that simple!
With Funky Bollywood well on its way to literary infamy, it is now time to return our attention to those more routine distractions that I provide from the petty insults of daily life, two of which are coming up next week.
First of all, Tuesday, April 14th sees Tony Kendall and Brad Harris return to the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down in yet another antic entry in the Kommissar X series, Death is Nimble, Death is Quick. The film includes some dazzling stunts, beautiful location filming in Sri Lanka and Singapore, and all of the colorful spy-fi nonsense that made the previous Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill such a treat. As always, all you need is a Twitter account and access to YouTube to participate.
Here's a nifty trailer that someone else put together because I'm tired:
And then, on the following night,Wednesday, April 15th, Pop Offensive returns after a long absence, following the postponement of March's episode.
In honor of the book's release, this will be a special, Bollywood-themed episode, although we will still make room for plenty of the groovy pop sounds from around the world that have earned us our reputation as a show that plays that sort of thing. Per usual, the rumblings will commence at 7pm PT and continue until 9pm PT and can be streamed live from 9thfloorradio.com.
Where do I find the time, you might ask? But, more pertinently, where will YOU find the time? Because, although participation in neither of these events is mandatory, they are both essential to your well being. Or so I've heard.
Almost a years ago, I told you of a vow I made to myself not to let 4DK turn into a cancer blog. I now must make a similar vow not to let it turn into a mere publicity organ for my book (FUNKY BOLLYWOOD, now available wherever fine books are sold). It's just that, well, since the book's release last week, there's just been a lot of stuff going on.
Case in point, Tuesday night's launch event. I want to thank all of you who came. I was very pleased by the turnout and the number of you who bought books. I was also flattered by the patience it took for all of you to put up with my somewhat rambling remarks when you could have instead been watching a clip of Feroz Khan driving a station wagon through the wall of a nightclub.
Photo by Erik Auerbach
I also want to thank Kasa Indian for supplying us with delicious Indian finger food and Sweetmue for the specially prepared Indian themed desserts. And, of course, Lost Weekend Video, for generously playing host to the event. As I mentioned on Tuesday, times are hard for them--as they are for most all brick and mortar video stores these days--and your support would be greatly appreciated. If you can't provide that support by simply dropping by and renting a copy of Don, Qurbani, or Geeta Mera Naam (they have the best selection of classic Bollywood movies of any local video store I can think of), they have an Indiegogo campaign that you can contribute to.
Lastly, but vastly, I would like to thank those who traveled all the way across the country to attend the event, including my boss at Teleport City, Keith Allison, whose unannounced appearance nearly rendered me incontinent with surprise. And then, of course, there is my lifelong best bud Andrew Nahem, whose design work on Funky Bollywood is being praised almost to the exclusion of any mention of the book's written contents by most reviewers.
I'll say no more about the event other than that a good time was had by all. If you missed it, rest assured that I will be setting up other Funky Bollywood related events throughout the US and beyond as the year progresses (my next scheduled is at Folio Books, in San Francisco's Noe Valley, on May 28th). I will be announcing those here... along with, needless to say, other, non Funky Bollywood related stuff.