Thailand 2005
Directed by Piyapak Choopetch.

The gangsters and smugglers are using magic to augment their abilities, so its only natural the police use it as well. A special police taskforce specialising in bringing down magic users corners a man who has hidden a huge amount of gold, and one of the officers, Itti (Chatchai Plekopanich) turns on the others, is caught, and incarcerated in a special magic-proof cell. Naturally he escapes after many years, and begins hunting down his fellow special ops officers for revenge. When Itti travels into the wilds of the villages, returning to the scene of the crime, it falls to young, up and coming officer Lt. Santi (Akara Amartayakul) to bring the necromancer in.

The Thai film industry releases a lot of horror/supernatural movies every year. Many of them are unoriginal, Thai interpretations of very tired western supernatural creatures (vampires, werewolves). The best of these movies trade of indigenous folklore and mythology and spin it into an inventive, modern tale. NECROMANCER does this by looking at the many amulets, talismans, and tattoos created in Thailand and the mystical properties they are purported to contain, and asks, "what if it were true?"

Magic invincibility is nothing new in warfare, and historical examples of this belief abound, from the Boxers of China, to the rebel army of Sierre Leone, to God's Army in Burma. In Thailand, sacred amulets made by specific temples are said to deflect bullets, and you may have the spirit of an animal that is tattooed on your back or chest possess you at an appropriate time. Needless to say, gangsters are a superstitious lot, and even today they wear the amulets and tattoos.

If they really worked, boy, that would make being a cop a tough job. Witness Lt. Santi, gunning down a fleeing criminal, who just keeps getting back up, and finally escaping.

Also featured briefly in the movie is the ceremony of piercing, best known as part of the "Vegetarian Festival" in Phuket. Fanatic worshippers pierce themselves with swords, knives, giant pipes, and so on and parade down the street. I suppose when you've got several knives stuck through your cheeks, it's very hard to eat meat. The scene is the typical, "villain escapes by mixing up in a festival parade," but a bit less pleasant looking than your average Carnivale scene.

Right from the start, NECROMANCER tries to create some doubt about who is good and who is bad. Unfortunately, what that translates into is having no really sympathetic character to root for. Lt. Santi seems like the hero at first, but he's always got such a pissed off look on his face that you can never quite take much of a liking to him. Then, he acts increasingly weird about the case. I kept waiting for some sort of revelation at the end, perhaps that the gangster that the special ops group killed at the beginning of the movie was his father or something, but though I thought it was almost hinted at, it was never made explicit. The evil necromancer Itti, meanwhile, it was pretty clear that the filmmakers were going for a dirty, hiding-in-caves, Osama bin Laden sort of look for Itti, but the actor, Chatchai Plekopanich, has way too soft a face and sympathetic eyes to make it happen. Instead, he looked more like an All-Things-Must-Pass-era George Harrison. I kept waiting for "My Sweet Lord" to break out on the soundtrack, but it never happened. His performance here won him the Best Actor award at the Thai film industry's 15th Supannahong awards.

Although certain elements of the story are unsuccessful, NECROMANCER is a pretty entertaining mix of magic and murder mystery. The magical system seemed quite mature and grounded in Thai occult practices. I think genre fans will get a kick out of it, and I could easily see NECROMANCER getting an english dub and appearing on late night TV.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on March 05, 2006.

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