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THE UNSEEABLE
  Anchalee Chaiworaporn
   
 


Wisit Sasanatieng is recognised by many as one of the top five directors from Thailand at the moment, with his splashes of colour, special effects and surrealistic storytelling. His films seem to indulge in a fun-and-fantasy element enjoyed by western audiences. It was no surprise that his directorial debut, Tears of the Black Tiger (2000), become the first Thai film in Cannes official selection, and that his second feature was distributed by Luc Bessons EuropaCorp. In his third feature, The Unseeable, Wisit chooses to go back to basics with a simple dramatic approach and the inclusion of old Thai-style ghost story details. This simplicity however, enables him to show his ability in connecting the world with dramatic set-ups a talent visible in The Unseeable, which was hidden under the glamorous and stylistic signature of his earlier works.

The plot, which is as good as Alejandro Amen?bars The Others (2001) or M. Night Shyamalans The Sixth Sense (1999), revolves around a ghost which defies its destiny. The Unseeable begins with a young pregnant girl, Nualjan, strolling around in Bangkok in the year 1934, to find her lost husband. She reaches a place where he is supposed to be living but instead of finding him, she meets several strange people: a fierce maid who always wears a black closed-neck dress (reminiscent of the maid Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchocks 1940 film Rebecca), a funny young neighbour who often comes up with scary ghost stories about the mysterious house, and a psychopathic old woman who is looking for her daughter. Upstairs in the main house, Ranjuan - a beautiful widow who is also the landlady - often appears in the shadows or behind a curtain, staring at the arrival of Nualjan. Confirming the rumours that surround her, Ranjuan appears to be hiding an adulterer - said to be a ghost - in her room, and this is where the Thai title comes from.

In a sense, the ghost scenes remind one of the old Thai-style horror in comic books, short stories, and paintings, especially those by the late famous painter-cum-writer Hem Wejakorn. In fact, after the films release in Thailand, the artists family even came out and declared that it was a violation of copyright. However, like his first film, in which he appropriates and reinvents the old Thai western, converting it into a modern paradox, Wisit in The Unseeable triumphantly retells the old Thai ghost story, albeit with a lesser degree of surrealism. Ghosts come from everywhere: they crawl down poles in the house, sit behind you, dig the garden and so forth. The director shows that there is some merit in just chilling nerves and raising hairs in a way that you are afraid of a ghost coming up from behind and tickling you in the ribs and that is your experience watching Thai ghosts.

Despite working with an unoriginal story and a somewhat generic approach, Wisit Sasanatieng is still meticulous in his method, especially in his use of art and production design to establish a period setting. Glamorous yet mysterious, erotic yet scary the settings always contain two sometimes contradictory atmospheres, like the image of Ranjuan beautiful but evil. The film retains this paradoxical atmosphere throughout; it is scary when the ghosts appear, but it also turns out to be dramatically significant to the internal quests of the two characters, Ranjuan and Nualjan, who are tied to their love and cannot get out of their own dilemmas. Explicit use of dark-tone lighting and soft pictures smartly hide the mystery of the house and characters. Camera angles always watch the main heroine Nualjan, denying the common point of views by lead characters often found in most horror. In fact they signify her real identity throughout the movie. Siraphun Wattanajinda, who plays Nualjan, has some trouble in performing the role of a young woman possessed by love and the past. Storytelling is also a bit crawling in the middle. Yet, because of the approach that Wisits has adopted, corresponding the rounded script written by Kongkiat Khomsiri, the ending becomes more dramatic than usual, and the sadness lingers in the hearts of some viewers after the film is over.

The Unseeable might be a simple ghost story and an interim film before the director moves on to his high-budgeted martial arts project, Armful, produced by Andy Lau. But it shows his hidden mastery in handling a dramatic narrative which was perhaps not evident in the stylistic and colour-splashed Tears of the Black Tiger andCitizen Dog. We must wait to see what happens when he combines these two chemistries into one.

 

The Unseeable: A Film with Blind Spots
 

Sorradithep Supachanya champ@thaicinema.org

 

29 October 2006

   
 

Unconventional, satirical, larger than lifethese words and others may be used to describe director Wisit Sasanatiengs Tears of the Black Tiger and Citizen Dog, but not his latest work The Unseeable, a simple ghost story that pays tribute to, rather than reinvents, the early Thai ghost movies. Without a stylish production, sophisticated plot, twist ending, or modern parallelism, Wisit instead offers a horror film that does just what it sets out to doto frighten the audienceand nothing more.

Nuanjan (Sirapan Wattanajinda), a young, pregnant woman from upcountry, travels to Bangkok in search of her husband, who has been lost there for almost a year. She ends up seeking temporary residence in a largely empty house that happens to hold many secrets, most of which concern its owner Mrs. Ranjuan (Supornthip Chuangrung), a widowed aristocrat who is as different from Nuanjan as black and white, in terms of social status, skin color, manners and the like. But they gradually form a hesitant friendship when Nuanjan gives birth to her baby and Mrs. Ranjuan, who could not have children of her own, requests spending time with the infant.

And so the film begins with an intriguing setup and characterization of the two leading women. Though different in appearances, both Nuanjan and Mrs. Ranjuan have been deeply in love with their men, both have lost that love, and both are still in denial of that loss. Disappointingly, the plot puts more weight to the ghost sub-plot and Mrs. Ranjuans irrelevant past. Altogether, they drag the story to a crawling speed and the audience may feel that the plot has not yet hit the right note or reached a satisfying conclusion.

Sirapan ventures back into the big screen after debuting in Dear Dakanda last year and enjoying a run in a few television series. With a frightful face constantly affixed, Sirapans character often has troubles expressing other emotions. Supornthip, a successful businesswoman, gives her first acting performance here and does a fine job as an externally graceful but internally tormented widower.

The Unseeable is never meant to be a dramatic film or a romantic film. It sets out to be a straightforward horror film, a kind that features no vengeful ghosts murdering humans, a kind that shows a coexistence of the dead and the living, and a kind that frighten and startle the audience by a haunting film score, shuddery shadow movements, hair-raising creaking sounds of an old wooden house, camera angles that suggest the heroine is always being watched, and a meticulous production design that evokes a sense of a desolate Bangkok of several decades ago. Evident by the films Thai title that literally translates as to commit adultery with a ghost, this film chooses to focus on the leading womens experiences with ghosts and strange incidences around the house rather than a more interesting issue of the universality of the joy and pain of love. The result may work for some, but I crave the unconventional, the satirical, and the larger-than-life factor.

 

 

 

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