by Jay Seaver
SCREENED AT THE 2006 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: SARS was a major health scare a couple years ago, but the panic seems to have died down a little, to be replaced by worry over avian influenza. This seems unreasonable to me; as much as I'm sure bird flu is to be taken seriously even if you are not a bird, does it have the potential to kick off a full-scale zombie epidemic the way SARS apparently does? I doubt it.Of course, when the film starts, the zombies aren't the problem - a gang of thugs has kidnapped Liu (Phintusuda Tunphairao), the teenage daughter of a rich Bangkok man. He attempts to hire Master Thep (Suthep Po-ngam) to rescue her, but he's getting a little long in the tooth for such action. He does have an apprentice, Khun Krabii (Suppakorn Kitsuwan), who has studied hard but is not terribly experienced or street-smart, but will have to do. Meanwhile, a single SARS-infected cockroach from an infected village in Africa has somehow made its way to the Thai airport, where it bites a disembarking foreigner (Andrew Biggs), who by the time he turns is in the same building where Liu is busily not waiting for rescue. Soon, a party on the first floor is filled with zombies, prompting Health Minister Ratsuda (Naowarat Yuktanan) to seal it off to keep Thailand "virus-free", although virologist Dr. Diana (Lene Christensen) thinks her experimental treatment offers a better option than killing everyone inside. Of course, she doesn't know about the giant mutated zombie snake.
"A fun bit of 'sickness'."
This is a classic zombie set-up - heroes with access to weapons trapped in an enclosed space with the military as much a threat as the walking dead. However, director Taweewat Wantha isn't just looking to make a zombie movie; he's making a spoof film, too, with occasional shots at Star Wars, The Matrix, and others. He spends some time breaking the fourth wall, too, with comments about the movie's budget and what the censors will and won't allow. They movie is not really a parody of zombie movies; most of the time the zombie action plays straight, if over-the-top. Anything else, though, is fair game, and while the jokes are sometimes pretty obvious and broad. SARS Wars winks at the audience "yeah, we know this is silly and well-worn, but we like it, and we know you like it, so here it is at double strength".
Though the characters in the movie mention censors, fear of them doesn't seem to deter the characters from any kind of specific excess. Sure, they self-referentially back off from showing a nipple and pixilate below-the-waist naughty bits, but they'll just as pointedly take any excuse they can to get a girl stripped down to her underwear, have a kidnapper fondle their teenaged hostage in an animated sequence, and go for more than a few ribald gags (I don't remember exactly why the whistle a girl had to blow was stuck near the guy's crotch...). There's plenty of bloody mayhem, too - blood sprays, spatters, and is inconveniently slippery. Khun and Thep are trained or at least enthusiastic swordsmen (conventional and light-saber), so limbs go flying. Thai popcorn movies rarely if ever err on the side of restraint, so once stuff starts getting crazy, it gets really crazy.
When you've got the sort of budget Wantha is dealing with, though, enthusiasm is one of your most potent weapons. The film stock often appears on the cheap side, especially in scenes without a whole lot of light, and the "anti-virus guns" do sort of have a toy vibe to them. It's tough to tell whether some scenes look cheesy because of the budget or whether going for a homemade vibe let them save money for other things. Like the giant snake; it's not cinema's greatest giant snake, but it's passable CGI when CGI is needed; it doesn't look like something out of a videogame. The zombie make-up is pretty decent, too.
The cast is good enough for what they're asked to do. Po-ngam has a certain scoundrel's charm, and Kitsuwon is in the amusingly dim mode. I liked Phintusuda Tunphairao as Liu; she's no shrinking violet. Lene Christensen makes Dr. Diana sort of self-aware of what a cliché she is. Not much nuance to the performances, but plenty of funny.It's a goofy B-movie from Thailand, so it's rough around the edges. But, really, would you want something like tihs polished?
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=14785&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/28/06 14:13:45