By modernizing the well-known ghost story of Mae Nak Phra Khanong, GTH director Banjong Pisanthanakun (Phobia, Shutter) risks comparison with 1999’s highly successful version. But while stylized and spiced up, Pee Mak Phra Khanong still clings closely to the traditional folk legend in many respects. With a script courtesy of Chuntawit Thanasewee (Hello Stranger) that took almost 18 months to fall into place, there are certainly some surprises in store—including one major plot twist.
When Mak (Mario Maurer) goes away to war, he leaves behind his heavily pregnant wife, Nak (Davika ‘Mai’ Horne), who soon after dies giving birth. On his return home, he doesn’t realize that what looks just like his wife is actually now a ghost. While everything is fine at first and Nak takes good care of her husband and his war companions, soon Mak’s four friends find out about her death. She tries to stop them from telling Mak the truth, saying she just she wants to stay with the one she loves for as long as possible.
Unlike previous versions, the story here is told with Mak as the protagonist rather than Nak, which gives a very different perspective on matters. The character of Pee Mak is totally different from the one we know, even though Banjong has said he wanted to retain much of the story’s essence, namely the tale of true love.
Banjong also adds creative twists, including more than a few laughs, to ensure the movie avoids being a boring retread. Of course, not everything comes off perfectly: we were a little confused by the half-Caucasian faces of the two lead actors amid the archetypal Thai setting. (Even more shocking is the sight of Mak and Nak’s baby’s face!) On the whole, the director successfully leaves his own mark in updating the old love-cum-horror story for modern times; for instance, Mak and Nak call each other ‘tua eng’ and ‘kao,’ terms of endearment commonly used today. The often humorous script is complemented by a charismatic cast and the setting of a traditional Thai house by the river.
Another interesting twist is the new importance placed on Mak’s four peers. Ter, Puak, Chin and Aey are practically an ensemble cast, who, by their presence and continually emphasized friendship, elevate the film from being just another love story. Although they’re scared of Nak’s ghost, and really just want to run away from the village, they risk their lives to save their buddy. Speaking of shining stars, Maurer is convincing as Pee Mak, obviously at home showing off his innocence and purity, while Davika is a frightening sight as Nak’s ghost in her big-screen debut. Still, how much you enjoy Pee Mak Phra Khanong will largely come down to how well you handle the changes to the plot, both big and small, and your appetite for that age-old Thai genre: the ghost comedy.
At this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), Thai indie film director Jakrawal Nilthamrong, 38, scooped one of the festival’s three top prizes, the Tiger Award, for his first feature-length movie, Vanishing Point. Here, the Thammasat University film lecturer discusses the car crash that killed his parents and inspired the movie, and what he's working on next.