Thursday, July 10, 2008

8 Lhiem, 12 Kom (Thailand, definitely the 1970s)

I want to keep reviewing these old Thai movies, I really do. But I imagine that sooner or later you're going to get sick of me saying, "Well, I have no idea what this movie was about, but bla bla bla.. ooh, pretty colors... bla... Mitr Chaibancha.. bla."

Take, for example, the 1970s Sombat Methanee action film 8 Lhiem, 12 Kom. As presented on the Triple X VCD, it has that jittery, severely distressed look that I've come to expect -- and which I've come to enjoy as sort of an otherworldly ambient viewing experience. Remember that scene in Quatermass and the Pit where they hooked a machine up to Barbara Shelley's head so that they could look at garbled images of her channeled memories of a genocide that took place on Mars millions of years ago? That's the sort of look I'm talking about. Only, instead of looking through a curtain of visual noise at insectoid Martians that look like they were made out of toothpicks and cocktail olives killing one another, you're looking through a curtain of visual noise at a drunken Mitr Chaibancha being held steady by Petchara Chaowarat.

But without subtitles, it's really impossible for an English speaker like myself to make sense of the various intrigues that make up 8 Lhiem, 12 Kom's crime caper plot. And the result is that all you're left with is a random collection of 1970s B action movie tropes. Wait... Ha! I said that as if it was a bad thing.

So yes, it's all here: Wide-assed ties, muscle cars, funk-lite porno music (that strays at times into weirdly minimalist synth explorations), motorcycle stunts, bad kung fu, a healthy amount of gratuitous nudity, mirror-lined bedrooms, poofy hair and, of course, big bushy mustaches. All Thai style! (Which means Asian women in big afro wigs, among other things -- which I'm sure, now that I've mentioned it, is some kind of fetish. Welcome to you, new batch of vaguely disappointed Google pervs!)

Sombat's mini-skirted female co-stars also gets to engage in some Cleopatra Jones-style action by way of some not terribly well choreographed fights. And there's a visual gag involving a women eating a sausage that's worthy of a Wong Jing movie. But, aside from that, all I get is that Sombat appears to have been involved in stealing a briefcase full of sparkly jewels, and now there's some skullduggery going on between the members of his gang for its possession. But wait: at the end, the villain, who I thought was just a run-of-the-mill gangster, turns out to have a big, control panel-filled underground lair - and Sombat and his female accomplices stage a raid on it aided by a bunch of those movie-mad Thai policemen. So I guess that Sombat wasn't the anti-hero that I thought and is instead more of a hero-hero. And is this a spy movie?

Understanding of the dialog and the plot might or might not render this a pretty good movie, but it's certainly no worse than many subpar old Hong Kong action movies that are readily available to English speaking audiences. At the very least I can be thankful to it for keeping me away from the few remaining unwatched Sompote Sands movies that I have left in the stack. And besides, I could have done worse: Sombat is one charismatic dude, there was some lovely period design on display, and I loved the gritty urban settings.

All of which is to say that you can look forward to more thumb-tongued blind gropings in the world of vintage Thai cinema from me in the future.


Well, I'm glad that at least somebody is happy about it.

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