Monday, October 29, 2007

Lizard Woman (Thailand, 2004)

When I first saw this title pop up on websites, the DVD-cover coupled with the flick’s name put this film at the top of my list of obscure films I just had see. I promptly took advantage of the first chance I had to get an affordable copy, despite my recent experience with another Thai horror film, Devil Species. Besides, word had it that Lizard Woman (in Thai: Tuk kae phi) had topped the box office in its home country for three weeks, so it couldn’t be all that bad, could it? I had the chance to check it out quick enough with some buds when we got together for a night of sleaze films; Lizard Woman was the first DVD to get fed to the player. An hour and a half later, after the film had ended, we all had to agree: we couldn’t figure out what the fuck had happened in the film.
Although only the third Thai horror film I have ever seen, Lizard Woman, coming so soon on the heels of Devil Species—with which it shares many common problems—leaves one with the feeling that either a lot gets lost in translation, or the Thai have a substantial inability to tell coherent stories. However, Nang-Nak/Return from the Dead, the Thai horror film that first turned me on to Thai horror, belays the latter concept, for it not only has a coherent narrative, but is really well made. But then, Nang-Nak, unlike Lizard Woman, is a big-budget film for Thailand and definitely has artistic pretentions that transcend its horror roots.
Lizard Woman, however, has no artistic pretensions: it is a horror film, plain and simple. Unluckily, though its basic concept is great and more than one scene or situation is actually rather (if not extremely) effective, the film as a whole is pretty lousy. Worse, it so obviously could have been a much better film that its failure is as highly aggravating as it is disappointing; likewise, as bad as it is, it never sinks to the level of pure incompetence that, in the end, makes Devil Species such an enjoyable fuck-up.
Like Devil Species, Lizard Woman is almost two different stories tied together with the slimmest of strings. At 20-plus minutes, the opening scene is so long that it seems like the rest of the film should continue it, but instead the film moves on to other characters and a different story, only returning to the original site for a showdown that may or may not have happened (that was one of the aspects me and me buds couldn’t agree upon).
The opening scene follows a mixed-sex group of six people spelunking; the Professor drops a wooden box with a wax gecko in it and later the group takes refuge in a deserted house when their car breaks down and the wind blows away their map. (The viewer who does not read the liner notes of the DVD will not know that the box was found in the cave and that by breaking it an evil gecko demon was released.) For what it’s worth, although the six do that normal thing that people only do in horror films—you know, separate for the most inane reasons and walk around alone and, yes, even bathe—the whole intro scene is pretty good: first we get a tastefully shot nude scene of an attractive Asian babe and then a white ghostly figure floating around before the geckos show up, people start dying, and the undead (not vampires but neither ghost nor zombie) increase. Regrettably, once the body count is over, the flick moves into its next segment and the narrative really gets lost.
Lizard Woman now turns to another character that inexplicitly appeared in the first segment once or twice in brief, totally out-of-context intercut scenes. The writer Kwanpilin (Roongrawee Borijindakul) has just finished her latest book and while on tour she buys (is given?) a small wooden box that looks suspiciously like the one the professor dropped. In no time short, gecko shit starts appearing in her apartment, close acquaintances start dying violent deaths and, finally, she gets possessed by a gecko demon and, as the titular lizard woman, is even seen eating flies from atop of a street light. Can her boyfriend Vitool (Pete Thongchua) and the photographer (Chatthapong Pantanaunkul) save her? The Lizard Woman runs off to the house from the beginning of the film—now populated by ghostly gals on swings—and the boyfriend and photographer follow close behind...
The script to Lizard Woman seems to have been written following the William Burroughs cut-up approach, for the narrative flies all over the place... in fact, just when you think the film is over, you suddenly find out it never happened—or did it? Who knows; who cares? Though the film is interspaced with some beautifully horrific scenes and surprises, everything else about the film—the pacing, script, editing and acting—can only be described as catastrophic. Don’t be tricked into getting this DVD by such seductively interesting film images as those included in this review: Lizard Woman is a total waste of time.

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