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

Phi Mak & Nak, scene from Thai horror movie 'Phi Mak Phra Khanong' (photo credit: news.zing.vn)

Phi Mak & Nak, scene from Thai horror movie ‘Phi Mak Phra Khanong’ (photo credit: news.zing.vn)

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.

Lovely Mai Davika Hoorne as Mae Nak (photo credit: news.zing.vn)

Lovely Mai Davika Hoorne as Mae Nak (photo credit: news.zing.vn)

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.

Scene from Phi Mak (photo credit: enjoythaimovies.com)

Scene from Phi Mak (photo credit: enjoythaimovies.com)

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?

Yours, Sirinya




Ananda Everingham: Thai Movie Star

Ananda Everingham can be regarded as the foremost Thai movie star although he has no Thai origins. Born 1982 in Thailand, Ananda is in fact of Australian-Laotian descent and had Australian nationality until a few years ago, when he received Thai nationality. His father is the Australian photojournalist John Everingham who has lived in Thailand since the 1970s and his mother, Keo Sirisomphone, is from Laos. In his youth, Ananda travelled with his father through Asian countries and was a kind of assistant to his Dad who worked as a photographer.

Ananda Everingham

Ananda Everingham*

Ananda Everingham*

By the way, the meeting of Ananda’s parents was roughly dramatized in the 1983 NBC television movie ‘Love Is Forever’ or ‘Comeback’ with Michael Landon and Laura Gemser in the leading roles. The story is about John Everingham who dives in the Mekong river and rescues his girlfriend from the communist regime in Laos. Well, it might seem a pathetic tale but Ananda also enjoys telling the story in interviews like this one which is in fact quite amusing and entertaining 😉

Hence, it was a fine start for Ananda’s own career as an actor and model. Thus, he tells us in the interview that he was discovered relatively early in his youth, at the age of 14, when he was working in his parent’s Indian restaurant in Bangkok. Since then, he has had leading roles in numerous Thai movies but also in other Asian films.

Movie star Ananda Everingham*

Movie star Ananda Everingham*

It was the Thai horror movie ‘Shutter’ (2004) that made Everingham famous as an actor in Thailand. There was even a Hollywood remake of ‘Shutter’ in 2008. This movie is mainly about a young photographer named Thun and his girlfriend Jane who have a car accident with a young woman. They run the woman over and she dies on the street because they do not help her. It is a case of a hit and run accident. Consequently, the are haunted by the dead woman’s spirit and discover mysterious shadows and supernatural images in their photographs. The woman’s ghost is revengeful and this is also a recurrent theme in Thai horror movies. Here is a clip from ‘Shutter’ to give you an impression.

Ananda has starred in a number of other Thai horror films, for instance in Ghost Delivery (2003) and most recently in O.T. Ghost Overtime (2014) which is a horror comedy. However, he also starred in romantic dramas like ‘Bangkok Time’ and ‘Me…Myself’ in 2007. Another important movie in his career so far is ‘Hi So’ (High Society, 2010) since he plays himself in this film. It is quite striking that Ananda requently plays photographers in films, thus also in ‘Happy Birthday’ (2009), a role for which he was awarded ‘Best Actor’ by the Thailand National Film Association Awards. ‘Happy Birthday’ is about love and hope, to put it in a nutshell.

An important movie in Everingham’s career so far is the 2008 Thai-Lao romantic drama ‘Sabaidee Luang Prabang’ (Good morning, Luang Prabang) because it deals with the relationship between Thailand and Laos and it is also the first Thai-Laotian commercial film since 1975.

Ananda plays the photographer Sorn*

Ananda often plays photographers in his movies*

In this movie, he also plays a photographer from Thailand who visits Laos. In fact, photography appears to be very important and thus a recurrent subject in his films. If you take a look at Ananda’s Instagram account, you will notice that he enjoys taking beautiful landscape photos among others 😉

What is more, Ananda has been in numerous TV series and starred in a variety of different film genres. For example, he was in the historical fantasy adventure film ‘Queens of Langkasuka’ (2008) and the very popular Thai romantic drama ‘Eternity’ (Chua fah din salai, 2010).

Getting ready for a historical movie like the 'Queens of Langkarsuka'*

Getting ready for a historical movie like the ‘Queens of Langkasuka’*

In this movie, he starred alongside famous Thai actress Laila Boonyasak (Ploy Chermarn). ‘Eternity’ is about the young man Sangmong (Ananda) who falls in love with his uncle’s wife Yupadee (Ploy). This is a tragic story since Yupadee finally commits suicide and Songmong becomes mad with grief and agony.

In conclusion, we may say that there is a lot of Mr. Everingham in each character that he plays. I think he can identify with the figures that he embodies. Thus, he claims that it’s his task to find truth in each movie script and character. He chooses his roles according to the physicality of the character and dreams of doing some slapstick and situation comedy in the near future 🙂

Ananda*

Ananda*

I think Ananda Everingham is a charismatic actor and always cuts quite a figure. Somehow he reminds me of Jhonny Depp. In addition, he is also a half-Asian person and may thus be regarded as an example of a ‘luk kreung’ who has become very successful in Thailand. Do you know any of his movies? Which one do you like?

Yours, Sirinya

*photo credit: Ananda Everingham, FB page