by Jason Coffman
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During the opening credits for P, one name stood out rather conspicuously. That name is Paul Spurrier, the film’s writer/director. Spurrier is the first westerner to make a film in Thailand in the Thai language— he’s from the UK. While Spurrier may have a solid grounding in Thai culture, the idea of a westerner writing and directing a film about Thai people smacks rather uncomfortably of exploitation, especially since the bulk of P takes place in a brothel and offers plenty of female flesh on display.
Aaw (Suangporn Jaturaphut) is the granddaughter of an old woman who fellow villagers believe is a witch. Grandmother has passed her knowledge down to Aaw, but their spells can’t help when Grandmother falls ill. Aaw is persuaded by a woman in the village into going to Bangkok and taking a job in order to get money for medicine. She arrives in Bangkok and immediately meets up with Pookie (Opal), who takes Aaw to her new place of work, The P Bar. The Bar is run by Mamasang (Manthana Wannarod), who gives Aaw the new name of Dau because her real name would be unpronounceable by westerners, and the girl’s job is to entertain western tourists. P Bar is basically a brothel, where the girls dance on stage until a tourist picks them out and takes them out for the night.
Dau and Pookie become friends as Dau awkwardly learns how to dance and has the traumatic experience of losing her virginity to a creepy white guy. It’s not long before Dau is using some of her Grandmother’s magic, despite being warned that the consequences may be dire. Soon Dau’s rivals are having serious accidents and Dau herself becomes the most popular dancer at the bar, but using her magic has unleashed a monster that hungers for human flesh. That’s the sort of thing that would put the damper on anyone’s career.
P is relatively tame as a horror film, and almost all the violence is loaded into the second half of the film. The first half is a lengthy setup, and the film’s pace is already pretty slow before the supernatural hijinks start in. Once Aaw/Dau starts using her spells, the pace slows even further to allow the introduction of the monster, whose presence is often unsettling. It would probably be even creepier if it didn’t get so much screen time, though— after staring it down for a while, the seams start to show in the makeup and special effects. The old line about leaving the audience wanting more is blatantly ignored in this area of the film.
Ironically, it’s followed to the letter in regards to the film’s depictions of sexuality. Despite taking place in a dance club/brothel, there’s not much nudity in the film although there are many dance scenes that show off plenty of socially-acceptable female flesh. Aaw/Dau and Pookie are hinted to be lesbians, but the film coyly avoids any overt depictions of homosexuality. Despite this, the feeling of exploitation on the part of the writer/director is unavoidable: he’s written a story that seems to depend strongly on western ideas of the exotic Asian, a girl who knows magic spells and is hypnotically seductive whether she realizes it or not, and is naturally bisexual.
If you can ignore all that, P does offer some creepy moments and is definitely an unusual take on the Asian/J-horror genre, even if it is a bit too long— although that is a common complaint about many films in this style. Spurrier is reportedly at work on another film in Thailand that may give viewers more context as far as his knowledge of Thai culture and his intentions with making films in Thai.
P was released on DVD by Palisades Tartan on 20 October 2009. Features include director’s commentary, a “making of” featurette, a featurette on Thai Go-Go bars, music video, theatrical trailer, and production photos.
Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.
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