An unearthly force is awoken in Thailand’s first attempt at a kaiju film.
“No worries. Another yankee con job.”
When you sit down and do the maths, there are not a lot of kaiju films that are particularly great. A handful of Godzilla films comfortably sit atop that title. Bong Joon-ho’s The Host also can lay a claim here, and naturally King Kong has held the title as one of the greatest for almost a hundred years. The two biggest reasons these films have done so well is due to two reasons: innovation, and meaning. A good kaiju film is trying to say something deeper than what is on the surface, and does so in ways that (hopefully) surprise you. And then there’s this film.
Beneath Bangkok, a tunnel excavation for a subway expansion reveals a layer of stone impenetrably dense. Confused by this, the tunnel workers attempt to continue, and discover a collection of fossils unknown to any of them. Archaeologists Leena (Sara Legge) and her partner Tim (Dan Fraser) are called in to check it out. They discover that the shafts are now full of army and special forces people, but no manpower is enough to stop the powerful Garuda, whose slumber has now been disturbed…
Garuda is known as Thailand’s first real kaiju film, and so the scene was open for the filmmaker – in this case, writer-director Monthon Arayangkoon – to go all out, and create his own niche in an otherwise pretty samey genre. Gardua, after all, deals with a known mythological figure, and with it comes the opportunity to add in layers of mysticism, unique visual flairs and maybe even a moral or two. Instead, we have a generic monster film that offers nothing new in any sense. What’s frustrating is that throughout the movie are hints of a larger meaning, of what it is to be Thai (as both Leena and Tim are seen as foreigners, despite Leena’s half-Thai ancestry), but they go nowhere.
Regarding the cast, I think it’s evident that everyone is trying hard. But that doesn’t mean that the acting isn’t universally awful, and only made watchable by Sara Legge’s natural charisma. Everyone else either shouts or mumbles their lines, awkwardly makes their way through English moments and simply offers no layers of believability to the cardboard characters they’ve been forced to portray. It doesn’t help that the movie relies entirely on unconvincing CG for the monster, meaning that there’s even less for the actors to react to. The sad part is, there’s one scene where the Garuda slaps a guy out of the way that they were so happy with, they showed it at three different angles. All of them were bad.
Every scene in the film strains as ugly cinematography combines with the boring story to make a film that’s not only hard on the eyes, but also tedious to a fault. The design of the creature, though, is pretty great and I have to give props to the film when they’re due. But so little is done with it until the climax that it feels wasted and a cool monster concept isn’t enough to hold a film together. Every possible chance there was to make a movie that was original in any way was ignored for a generic shoot-the-monster film that takes place almost entirely in a boring, greenish underground facility.
Yeah, the movie doesn’t take to the streets of Bangkok until the big final fight, so we don’t even get to see Garuda in his full glory until right near the end. Those moments, when he’s soaring through the city and tearing people up, are definitely the most enjoyable scenes, despite how otherwise uninspired they are. I guess they try to play up the human angle a bit more in the beginning, in order for it to sting more once people start dropping, but the formulaic nature of the film means that we’re not really willing to commit to knowing any of them, because we know how screwed they are from the beginning.
Garuda could have survived with bad effects and acting if its premise was original and fun, but despite a few cool moments sprinkled conservatively throughout, it’s just too much of a boring slog to sit through, let alone enjoy. So, Thailand’s first attempt at an epic monster film failed. Two years later, the film Boa… Nguu yak! was released, so maybe that one went better. Oh, it only has 3.7 on IMDb? Eh, maybe stick to Garuda then.
Verdict: Garuda wastes a great design and monster in a film that’s just so, so uninteresting.
Overall entertainment: 4/10
Monster design: 7/10
Set design: 0/10
Head-tilts set to musical stings: One
Also known as: Paksa Wayu
Director: Monthon Arayangkoon
Writer: Monthon Arayangkoon
Sara Legge – Leena
Dan Fraser – Tim
Sornram Theppitak – Tan
Chalad Na Songkhla – Krai
Yanee Tramoth – Wichai
Phairote Sangwaribut – Tan’s Boss