Thai Ghost & Horror Movies and ‘Phi Mak Phra Khanong’
As you might remember from my recent article about Father Red & Uncle Boonmee or A Thai Ghost Story, belief in ghosts and spirits is very popular, enduring and present in Thailand. This belief in the supernatural is also a part of Thai everyday life considering the popularity of Buddha amulets and spirit doctors, for instance. In Thai tradition, spirits are either protective and beneficent or evil and antagonistic. Hence, we may also claim that the belief in spirits (‘Phi’ (ผี) in Thai) have contributed greatly to the overall popularity of Thai ghost movies (หนังผี).
The Thai horror movie genre
As a matter of fact, we may speak of an ongoing cultural relevance of the Thai horror movie since this genre has constantly been popular among the Thai moviegoers. Thus, Thai horror films are very often based on folklore, myths and legends. They refer preferably back to old Thai ghost stories such as the ‘Mae Nak’ (แม่นาค) ghost which is based on a tale about Lady Nak who is a spirit woman. Generally, female ghosts are revengeful because they have been done wrong and thus stand for human maliciousness and punishment. In addition, however, they also want to discourage people from committing evil deeds and actions.
For instance, you may remember the horror movie ‘Shutter’ (2004) with Thai movie star Ananda Everingham as photographer Thun who is haunted by the ghost of a young woman whom he run over and killed. This is an example of a revengeful female spirit who wants to punish the one’s who let her die.
Nevertheless, there are also Thai horror movies with some comic elements which hence cannot be taken too seriously as a ghost movie. An example is O.T. Ghost Overtime (2014), starring again Ananda Everingham and two partners who run a weird company and are hired to do a wedding party at an old hotel. It is a luxurious hotel but they don’t know that it is haunted by ghosts. This film can be regarded as a kind of horror comedy. However, ‘Ghost Overtime’ might also be seen as a thriller.
As far as early movies from the 1950s and 60s of the horror film genre are concerned, female ghosts are prevalent since they are also dominant in Thai folklore. In contrast, male spirits (so-called ‘poo som fao sap’ ปู่โสมเฝ้าทรัพย์) are mostly ‘fictional’ and not based on legends.
However, let me elaborate on the recurrent topic of Mae Nak, the dead wife who becomes a spirit and haunts her husband by refusing to leave him. In fact, there are numerous movie versions of this story, more than 20 versions have been filmed over 50 years. The most recent one is called ‘Phi Mak Phra Khanong’ (2013) which is a comedy ghost film like O.T. Ghost Overtime. The main actors are the young half-Thai movie stars Mario Maurer as Phi Mak and Davika Hoorne as Nak.
It is a very cute story and some scenes are truly hilarious. What is more, the film has numerous anachronistic elements which contribute to the comic effects.
The story is about the soldier Phi Mak whose wife dies during pregnancy while he is away to fight in a war. When Mak returns home the villagers behave strangely towards him and avoid him because they know that Nak has died and is a ghost now. Mak and his friends are ignorant of this fact. However, the friends are suspicious and want to go into the matter. When they realize that Nak is a ghost, they try to warn Mak but actually they get confused themselves and mistake Mak for a ghost instead of Nak. They turn to a monk in a temple for protection and guidance. In Thai horror movies, monks often function as antagonists to evil spirits.
Nak is not evil, she only wants to be with her beloved husband Mak and finally love wins against all odds. There is a comic and also romantic scene when Mak and Nak go to a fair, take a ride on the Ferris wheel and also go to a tunnel of horror 😉 What’s more, there is also a fun song!
Thus, the story differs from ‘original’ tales about Mae Nak because in this movie version Nak is neither bad nor is she the main character. Her husband Mak is he protagonist. In contrast to more traditional Thai horror stories, there is also a happy ending because humans and ghosts can finally live and be happy together. Thus, Nak is accepted as a ghost in the village and she can also do some acting in the tunnel of horror 😉
On the whole, it is a romantic story which is funny but also has some sad moments. This is for instance underlined by Palmy’s song ‘I want to stop the time’.
Summing up, we may say that the Thai horror movie genre is predominantly based on traditional beliefs and tales. Hence, it seems that the subject of ‘ghosts’ is highly popular over there 😉
What is your favourite Thai ghost film if you have one?