Saturday, March 5, 2016

Art of the Devil II / Long khong (Thailand, 2005)

One of two follow-up movies to Tanit Jitnukul's original horror movie of the same name (2004 / trailer), Art of the Devil ll is a titular sequel only and is completely unrelated to the first film. (Art of the Devil III [2008 / trailer], in turn, while likewise only titularly related to Art I, is a prequel to this movie.) The shared narrative aspect of all three horror films, all of which were highly successful in their homeland but haven't exactly gained much notice elsewhere, is that of black magic.
That said, let's take a closer look at the film at hand, which was pulled from our pile of "mystery DVDs" (i.e., don't when or why or how it was procured) and watched last week with an audience of four. Art of the Devil ll also elicited four different reactions: one person said "That sucked"; another dismissed it with "That was gross"; a third said "That was an enjoyably bad movie"; and lastly came the protestation, "Hey, it was a pretty good flick". We were the protesting party. For: "Sucked" it did not, "gross" it often was, and a "bad movie" in the sense of psychotronic fun or fun crap like Showgirls (1995 / trailer) or The Hottie and the Nottie (2008 / trailer) it is most definitely not. And we ourselves at least founds the movie often rather horrific.
True, The Art of the Devil II may be low-culture trash, as body-count and other genre films generally are, but it is also interesting in many ways and easily retains viewer interest, and not just because of the exotic factor. (This alone makes it way better than most movies out there, and not just genre films.) Like many Asian films the editing sometimes overly streamlines the narrative, not only moving the story forward in jumps but also resulting in gaps that require some quick and creative thinking on the part of the viewer. Still, considering that the movie was directed by seven directors (Pasith Buranajan, Kongkiat Khomsiri, Isara Nadee, Seree Phongnithi, Yosapong Polsap, Putipong Saisikaew and Art Thamthrakul), Art of the Devil ll is not only surprisingly coherent, but the acting passable to excellent. In this regard, the evil woman of the film, the total MILF teacher Mrs. Panor (Napakpapha Nakprasitte), excels: sexy throughout, she succeeds at different points to convey likability, pain, seductiveness, bitchiness, pure evil — in other words, the full gamut needed to become a convincing character. It is not surprising that she was nominated for acting awards that year by both the Bangkok Critics Assembly as well as the Thailand National Film Association. (The various no names that play the fodder don't excel in any way, but considering that dubbing usually makes bad actors even worse and they merely come across as weak, they do a perfectly acceptable job.)
The basic plot of Art of the Devil ll has little to do with art, other than that there are a few obscure references to tattoos and the MILF also has some devilish body art. The basic plot involves a group of students returning to their countryside home after two years in the big city for the funeral of the father of their friend, Ta (Namo Tongkumnerd, also of Art of the Devil III and 407 Dark Flight 3D [2014 / trailer]), who stayed behind in the backwaters of Thailand. But things are not as they seem in them there backwaters, and come nightfall the realization comes that the sins of the past are now demanding their due. 
Ghosts and dead people play a part in a moral tail that is anything but gore lite and that also (Thank god!) lacks the Asian (e.g., Japanese and Korean) obsession with long-haired ghosts. The moral to the tale is a simple one: don't fuck around with black magic. Black magic, however, is the shared sin of all those in the movie, and they pay dearly for their sins; the dark arts are even at the foundation of the final twist of the movie, a twist that we for one did not see coming. (Indeed, a slow-dawning twist of Art of the Devil ll is the realization that the evil MILF was, basically, driven to madness and evil by all those around her, and that she became what she is due to desperation caused by factors that she had no control of. Be careful of what you create, we must say.)
The horror in Art of the Devil ll is of the illogical supernatural type, in that the way it manifests itself is often more nightmarishly inane than fully understandable. Much like, say, in the great granddaddy of all Gothic horror novels, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, in which the about-to-marry Conrad dies by being crushed by a gigantic helmet falling from the sky, there is often no logical explanation why something happens or why some die in a specific way, other than it is supernatural. Two deaths that perfectly exemplify this would be the first one, in which a man (whom we later learn was the local gym teacher) suffers fishhooks emerging from beneath his skin, and the death of Ko [Pavarit Wongpanitch], who suffers a similar fate, only this time it's living lizards that bloodily and fatally force themselves out from under his skin. Bloody, but why fishhooks or lizards? Especially since the evil MILF generally seems to prefer a more hands-on or at least direct approach. But then, black magic and revenge follows no logic but its own.
Amidst all the many gore highlights are other events that are more mundane but nonetheless effectively horrific, as exemplified by the scene in which the group suddenly realize that their half-eaten evening meal is made from their missing friend Noot [Chanida Suriyakompon]. (The scene of granny eating the cat, on the other hand, is more laughable, both because the cat looks so fake and because of Ta's reaction. [He says something to the effect "She's hungry, but a little confused."]) Occasionally, there are moments of unexpectedly subtlety, as in the scene following that in which the group lights incense to ward off evil spirits.
Despite its graphic and gory opening scene, Art of the Devil ll is perhaps a little slow to start, but once the college students are underway and the first brown-tinged flashback kicks in, the movie definitely begins to intrigue. The time-jumping narration works surprisingly well, and the revelations the flashbacks disclose often add an unexpected viewpoint to the events, if not a kick in the gut to the viewer's sympathies at the given point in the movie. (More than one person in the movie has a dark secret, you might say.) The blood-spattered scenes and shocks are often unnerving and cringingly effective, at best both painful and nightmarish. (And not for the squeamish, as the movie often waltzes deep into the sphere of torture porn.) And considering how prudish the young couple Kim (Hataiwan Ngamsukonpusit) and Por (Akarin Siwapornpitak) are at the start of the movie — they barely manage to kiss each other's cheeks — sex plays a huge role in the movie, which features scenes not only of the MILF teacher getting it on with a variety of men, but also infers both a lesbian relationship between two of the group as well as the oral rape of the young students, both female and male, by the gym teacher. (Never graphic, but always unequivocal.) The final twist is not necessarily to be seen in advance — as we've already mentioned, we sure didn't see it coming — but is nevertheless extremely consequent to the black tale told.
Karma is a bitch — and Art of the Devil ll is bitchin'!

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