Now available on DVD
Pitchanart Sakakorn as Ting
Apasiri Nitibhon as Meen
Penpak Sirikul as Fai
Chokchai Charoensuk as Dr. Charun
Directed by Monthon Arayangkoon
Remember when Asian cinema was the forefront of cutting edge horror? Yeah, that seems like a long time ago to me, too. Unfortunately, “The Victim” â from Thai director Monthon Arayangkoon (whose first feature was 2004’s “Gardu” â notable as the first Thai feature shot using only digital technology) â won’t lead anyone to think we’re in for a new revival of Far East frights. The director’s second feature (his third being this year’s “The House”) is a moderate time waster that sports its share of interesting moments but thanks to a convoluted script (written by Arayangkoon himself), it can’t deliver the cumulative effect that a good ghost story needs.
The unlikely premise that kicks off “The Victim” involves Ting, an eager young aspiring actress (played by Pitchanart Sakakorn with natural likeability) who catches the attention of police Lieutenant Teerasak Kedkaew (played by Kiradej Ketakinta). He enlists Ting’s talents in a frankly daffy police program in which actors reenact recent murders playing the part of the victims opposite their accused murderers in the hopes of solving the crime.
I know, I know…it sounded real sketchy to me, too.
After we see several comical glimpses of previous actors’ failed attempts to service the police’s needs (including a girl who can’t stop laughing while she’s being stabbed â yes, it’s so very hilarious to think of someone dying of multiple stab wounds!), and after the Lieutenant assures Ting that what they’re doing will not dishonor the dead, Ting takes to her new job like the Hillary Swank of homicide. In fact, she may take to it a little too well as her chirpy attitude and newfound celebrity status (!) is frankly a little off-putting.
Curiously, these crime scene reenactments all take place before public crowds. Talk about your morbid entertainment â jeez, can you imagine putting this method to use in high profile U.S. cases? I also question its effectiveness as a practical crime-solving tool â if nothing else can’t they keep the public from oohing and aahing like its performance art? â but in “The Victim,” Ting’s services are quickly in demand from police departments all over Thailand.
Before long, Ting’s involved in her most high profile case yet. Meen (played by Apasiri Nitibhon) a former Miss Thailand (and 2nd place Miss Universe runner-up) has gone missing with her husband Dr. Jarun (played by Chokchai Charoensuk) named as the primary suspect. After paying her dues playing so many no-name corpses, Ting sees Meen as the opportunity of a lifetime (“Time to be a big superstar!” she exclaims). But then she’s unexpectedly replaced by a policewoman in the role. When that officer is inexplicably found dead â her corpse looking like Rick Baker’s handiwork in Gore Verbinski’s “The Ring” more than that of Hideo Nakata’s “Ringu” â Ting is called back to duty with no knowledge of her predecessor’s grisly fate.
Having avidly studied Meen’s mannerisms through video footage (she even learns the traditional Likae dance), Ting’s portrayal of Meen will be second to none. But when she goes to what’s believed to be the site of Meen’s murder (no body was found, but there were samples of skin tissue), Ting experiences a vision of Meen’s death that convinces her that Dr. Jarun is a scapegoat in his wife’s death. Ting sets out to find the real killer, with her investigation leading her to door of Meen’s longtime best friend, plastic surgeon Fai (played by Penpak Sirikul, in one of the film’s more effective acting turns). Ting’s confrontation with Fai leads to a twist about an hour into “The Victim” that puts the entire film into a new perspective.
In some ways, this twist is welcome in that it puts some of the flaws of the preceding hour in a more flattering light. It becomes easier to regard what might’ve been initially perceived as mistakes as being deliberate on the part of the filmmakers. And some of the clichÃ©s and lapses in logic become more readily acceptable as part of Arayangkoon’s intentions.
However, the downside is that a new series of flaws quickly take over the narrative. Whereas the first half of “The Victim” was an eerie, if over-familiar, gloss on the well-worn tropes of Asian ghost movies, the second half is far more of a grind as our initial investment in Ting and Lt. Tee is blunted by the film’s new direction and the mystery plot we had been caught up is replaced by a far less satisfying tale of possession.
Arayangkoon’s visual skills are consistently superior, though, with many striking shots throughout “The Victim.” At times, he even manages to make the stock imagery of pale faced apparitions that are so played out in Asian genre cinema win back some of their original effectiveness. But ultimately, Arayangkoon’s film becomes a victim of its own awkward storytelling.