Five friends find war isn’t half as scary as home life in Banjong Pisanthanakun’s comedy-horror.
“You know I’m terrified of ghosts. But I’m more scared of living without you.”
I have something of a complicated relationship with both Thai horrors and comedies. 13 Beloved was a well-made thriller that delved into the justifications of its main character being forced to do worse and worse things, but Train of the Dead and Garuda are easily two of the worst films I’ve ever looked at on the site. And then there was The Holy Man, which I could tell was funny, but not when subtitled in English. So when I heard that Thailand’s high grossing film of all time was one that combined both aspects, I was definitely curious.
Pee Mak is a retelling of the popular Thai tale Mae Nak Phra Khanong, but with a comedic spin. Set in the 19th century, the titular Mak (Mario Maurer) has left his pregnant wife Nak (Davika Hoorne) after being conscripted to fight in a war. Nak seemingly dies in childbirth, and when Mak and his friends (Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk, Nuttapong Chartpong, Wiwat Kongrasri, Pongsathorn Jongwilas) return, they find the villagers now shun them, warning the group of Nak’s ghostly lullaby and evil presence. Mak doesn’t believe it, but his friends begin to – and so hijinks commence as they come up with ways to convince Mak of this.
Weirdly, for a film called Pee Mak, the titular character is probably the least noteworthy. I’m reminded of the Hangover films, where Justin Bartha’s Doug isn’t the point. While mostly focusing on the four comic relief characters, the ghostly Nak unfortunately doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the film and has even fewer lines. Davika Hoorne does a hell of a lot with the material she’s given, and delivers a genuinely intense performance that would go down a treat in any straight-up horror. With so much screen time given to the men, it would have been better to give them a bit more personality than they actually have in the
In fact, it’s no surprise that the scary stuff is stronger and more prominent than anything else. Banjong Pisanthanakun, the film’s director, has had something of a successful career in the genre, having worked in it for a decade prior to Pee Mak, while his only foray into comedy was a romantic one he directed only a couple of years prior. The experience in the former genre really shows, and though the funny moments are apparent, it seems that most of the efforts are centred on making its main characters scream as much as possible.
In fact, if you forget about the five men and their shenanigans, Pee Mak would actually make a pretty solid ghost story. It drips atmosphere at every opportunity, from its haunting score to lingering camera shots especially near the start. The movie is a horror and a comedy, but not often both at the same time, deciding to do most of its scary stuff in the first hour and letting the shenanigans take over once the stakes have been established. Not that they don’t bleed into one another at various points, but it seems that Pisanthanakun needs more experience in blending the two genres together.
As it stands, Pee Mak is a bit of a mess – but a very entertaining one throughout. I was never bored, even during some of the longer comedy sequences. It’s got a very broad appeal, which makes it fairly easy to recommend. It mixes in some spirited performances with a lot of creepy atmosphere and while they never gel perfectly together, the final result is something that I’d be happy to vouch for if they’re looking to dip their toe in Thailand’s comedy scene.
Verdict: Pee Mak is a lot of fun but had the potential to be even better.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Charades: It must have been fun translating that
Twists and fakeouts: A couple, sort of
Jump scares: Lizards are the cats of Thailand, then?
Pee Mak (2013)
Also known as: พี่มาก..พระโขนง; phi mak phra khanong
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Writer: Nontra Khumvong, Banjong Pisanthanakun
Mario Maurer – Mak
Davika Hoorne – Nak
Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk – Aey
Nuttapong Chartpong – Ter
Wiwat Kongrasri – Shin
Pongsathorn Jongwilas – Puak