2006/Feb/05

Barbed bouquet

Low budget action movie is an adorably insane mess

Bongkot Kongmalai stars as one of the five femme fatales who flaunt their lethal skills and more in Poj Arnon's campy "Chai Lai".

: When five Thai bimbos imitate the crotch-splitting, panties-flaunting stunt actions of legendary femme fatales from Bond girls to Kill Bill's Kiddo to Charlie's Angels's trinity and vanquish a monkey-horde of pretty boys in dark suits, what we have in Poj Arnon's adorably insane mess is not a statement of Penthouse Feminism. It's just a Penthouse mag disguised as a low-budget action movie executed with varying degrees of subtlety as it exhibits its five hotties' physical endowments, especially that of the suffocatingly ample Bongkot Kongmalai.

Chai Lai, (Dangerous Flowers), Starring Bongkot Kongmalai, Supaksorn Chaimongkol, Jintara Poonlarp, Kesarin Ektawatkul, Boonyawong Pongsuwan, Directed by Poj Arnon

In Chai Lai, there are scenes of Bongkot, in black fishnet stockings, destroying a hitman while posing, arms akimbo, lips pursed and legs lasciviously apart, on a deserted road. Then we have the sweet-faced Supaksorn Chaimongkol performing high-wire action from the back of a tuk-tuk, wearing a short, fluffed skirt and a sexy top preferred by Coyote girls in Bangkok's seedy bars. Then we have all five ladies, now wearing white satin nighties worthy of a Victoria Secret's collection from the late '80s, plunging into a pool to escape the bad guys!

And when the movie gets tired of devising the tarty wardrobe strategem, it resorts to a foolproof method: in a scene that's totally unrelated and unnecessary to the plot, the story, the gender politics, the world peace and etc, the movie has Bongkot stripping off her evening dress to reveal that volcano of a body in a bra and illegally short pants, and the actress starts dancing, jumping up and down and slumping on her bed in ecstatic abandon. All movies, I know, are about voyeuristic pleasure, but I never thought someone would apply it so literally.

Usually, Poj Arnon's movies have a genuinely campy appeal about them; his stories possess a kind of sincere shallowness, and his jokes are cliches that still work. Despite his tendency to make movies about young people, Poj is one of the old-school filmmakers at work who knows how to please the mass. Quite a number of people dismiss him as a conventional filmmaker with a limited talent, but the fact is Poj remains one of the few Thai directors who can release at least one new movie every year.

But even his fans (frankly I'm not among their ranks) would find Chai Lai a tough customer. Its soft-core baits quickly fizzle out since it becomes obvious that Poj is not a director who's capable of eroticising his female characters, no matter how sexy they naturally are. The way these ladies are filmed is not flattering, and none of them emerges as a clear-cut character: they're just dolls playing with guns, giggling along the way. It's not fun, either, when you realise that their martial arts skills are apparently no better than yours or mine.

If the whole movie, to stretch it metaphorically, is the battle between the sexes - as the beautiful females punch the noses and kick the gonads of good-looking bad guys - neither of them emerges as the clear winner.

Instead it is a sexless drag queen, played by stage-actor Wannasak "Gug" Sirila with a happily demented mannerism, who prevails as the only crazy-funny thing in this female-oriented flick that will not do any real service to the female sex of this land.



Kong Rithdee

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