Busy, Busy–So Here’s Some Zombies

Been mired in Fictionland for the last week and haven’t had time for much else, thus my sporadic posting of late. I thought I’d post something holiday-appropriate from the 365 Days of the Dead archives, until I realized I’d managed to go a whole year without watching a single Christmas-themed zombie flick (still not sure how I managed that–must have something to do with my reticence for Christmas films, whether they feature flesh-eating dead folk or not).

So in lieu of a season-friendly review, here’s the write-up I did for SARS WARS: BANGKOK ZOMBIE CRISIS, which was featured as Day 197 of 365 Days of the Dead (it was also featured on Blog of the Living Dead). Had a chance to revisit this Thai zombie comedy and it still holds up as a crazed, anarchic treat.

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I’ve never understood people who need to get high in order to enjoy a movie. Sure, I can see firing one up before a Cheech and Chong marathon to get in the right frame of mind, but for the life of me I don’t get those who can’t sit down to watch films–particularly horror or science fiction/fantasy films–without a proper buzz. Maybe it’s a lack of imaginative capabilities on their part, but why would you spend good money on drugs when there are movies like SARS WARS: BANGKOK ZOMBIE CRISIS which do all the work for you.

A supremely delirious action/horror/comedy with a generous dollop of romance, this 2004 Thai film comes from the feverish mind of director Taweewat Wantha (who recently followed up this film with something called THE SPERM–Lord, I can’t wait to see that). A movie this chaotic defies a mere synopsis–think a everything-but-the-kitchen-sink plot like WILD ZERO filtered through influences such as Peter Jackson’s BRAINDEAD, David Cronenberg’s SHIVERS, and the films of Stephen Chow and, naturally, George Romero–so let’s just say it takes a distinctly non-traditional approach to some of the standard elements of the zombie genre.

A mutated strain of the deadly Sars virus travels from Africa by a poorly-rendered CGI mosquito (all of the digital effects here are pretty lousy, saved only by the picture’s anything-goes mentality) to Bangkok, immediately turning those infected into snarling, flesh-hungry zombies. A ruthless FEMA-like agency quarantines them in a downtown high-rise, where earnest young warrior Khun Krabii (Supakorn Kitsuwon) and his master (Suthep Po-ngam) are trying to rescue a kidnapped girl named Liu (the relentlessly adorable Phintusuda Tunphairao) from the clutches of a criminal gang.

And that, my friends, is just the set-up. The thugs responsible for Liu’s kidnapping would make for an entertaining flick on their own–a colorful bunch with a, shall we say, flexible grip on their sexuality (their mastermind even sends the most homoerotic ransom demand in cinematic history)–but Wantha keeps throwing in Thai drag queens, coercion by tickling, even an enormous digital snake, until your mind threatens to boggle. Though not every joke works, and some of the humor may not translate well to these shores, there’s some extremely hilarious moments here–an inspired bullet ricochet in a crowded elevator, the master’s lightsaber-ish sword that needs fresh batteries, and a vengeful CGI fetus are definite highlights (I haven’t laughed this hard at a movie–at least, a movie where I was supposed to–in quite some time).

The problem with such a creatively erratic first act is that the action tends to peak too soon, leaving the film to lull a bit during its midsection; here is where Khun Krabii and Liu explore their feelings, leading to one of the most hilariously inappropriate lovemaking scenes in recent memory (Wantha pulls a fast one, playing the scene straight, with a little of SPIDER-MAN’s rain-swept flavor, before going balls-out with the humor; maybe he didn’t realize that he’d struck just the right balance of zaniness and character, and actually damaged what could have been a very moving scene. Oh well, “Crouching Tiger Eats Noodles” makes up for it.)

SARS WARS picks up plenty of steam for its final act, chugging along nicely to a climactic CRYING GAME-inspired reveal, as well as a deus ex machina remote control gag that, even with all the insanity preceding it, is still an incredibly stupid way to close a picture.

The good far outweighs the bad in this ready-made fanboy favorite. Wantha even spices things with a quirky visual style (including energetic anime sequence-flashbacks) and a catchy-as-hell heavy metal theme song (which you can check out the video for below, after the trailer). SARS WARS: BANGKOK ZOMBIE CRISIS is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

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