Ghost Game aka Laa-thaa-phii (2006) Thai Reality TV Horror

Ghost Game posterGhost Game, or Laa-thaa-phii, its original title, is a great concept. Set in the world of Thai reality TV where horror meets greed and a group of 11 wannabes, the winner(s) have to spend a pre-ordained amount of time in a haunted Khmer Rouge prison and those who make it to the end will win a whole lot of Baht (5 million). On top of this fairly clever premise is the filmmakers decision to use real-life contestants from Thailand’s own version of American Idol, called Academy Fantasia.

In one review on IMDb, the statement is made that the characters are all “unappealing.” Well spotted! Of course they are, they are really contestants from the vile world of reality television. Sadly, the film does not hit all the right spots, as say the 2008 miniseries (later turned into a film by putting all the bits together) Dead Set. In Dead Set the producers took the stomach turning reality TV show “Big Brother,” fictionalized it and had zombies attack it.

Granted, not quite as original as Ghost Games but the chance to see show host Davina McCall get turned into a zombie made it a real winner, but that could just apply to this viewer. In the 2006 Thai film, the hopefuls all come from the “real” world of Thailand’s reality TV. Interestingly, the government was a more than a bit peeved about the show’s premise.

poster of Dead Set

Setting it in a haunted Khmer Rouge prison where thousands of innocents were tortured and murdered, hit a little too close to home. Cambodian officials decried the film saying that the filmmakers were benefitting from the mass Genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. Thailand offered apologies and then released the film.

The Cambodian government were not too far off point in their complaint. While they charged that the producers were turning the horrific genocidal episode into a profit making drill, they did not mention the total disregard of the victims. At one point in Ghost Game, the contestants actually denigrate the remains in the prison, insulting their death and stating that they “deserve their fate.”

This is actually rather disturbing and one cannot help but feel it was a bit unnecessary to the plot. The evil commander figure who will reek havoc over all by the end of the film was going to do so anyway, the addition of insulting innocent dead – in a scenario that is all too close to real life – was in poor taste.

Sadly, the film, despite its original concept, loses pace and becomes a bit mundane as it trundles towards its climax. In some instances, the movie induces unintentional laughter. One character is meant to be running away in terror when something halts his escape. The scene, is pretty impressive until one notices how the character was running.

My daughter pointed it out, while screaming with laughter, and, once seen, it changes the feeling of the scene forever. The chap is in the background hunched over and scurrying comically rather than running in terror. It is truly funny and every single time I’ve re-watched it, laughter is my first reaction.

Ghost Game may have, after its original concept, lost pace and its way, but over all it still entertains. Thai horror has moved up several notches since its beginnings in the Asian horror market. The Ghost of Mae Nac, released one year prior, was a complete yawn-fest of slow moving

Poster for Phobia aka 4bia Fast forward a few years to 2008 and the Thai horror anthology 4bia which was clever, well done and in this reviewer’s opinion, bloody brilliant. There are other films that prove Thailand is learning the horror lesson well, not least of which is the top notch film Shutter. Made in 2004, this film hits all the right notes, but from other films on offer, it appears that the lessons are hard earned and sometimes forgotten.

Ghost Game, or Laa-thaa-phii works well enough that it still manages to entertain despite the odd, and inadvertent, comical moments in the film. Certainly no worse than much of the dross that Hollywood puts out, “can anyone say Uninvited?” (A shoddy remake of a classic South Korean horror film, A Tale of Two Sisters.)

A great example of how Thai films are progressing and as said before, the concept is pretty damned original and worth a look. 3 out of 5 stars.

Scene from Ghost Game, "Get out!"
Yes he is saying, in very bad English, “Get out!”

Sick Nurses (2007): No Pills for These Ills

Written and directed by Piraphan Laoyont and Thodsapol Siriwiwat, Sick Nurses is an atypical Thai horror film. No nudity, poor special effects and a languid almost sleepy pace.

The film takes place in a deserted hospital that is manned by what appears to be a skeleton crew, while the rest of the staff are attending an award ceremony. The skeleton crew consists of six nurses and a doctor. While he goes to the award ceremony, the nurses start getting killed by a dark ghostly woman.

At the start of the film, we are helpfully told that seven days after someone dies they will return to their loved one. While the six nurses interact with one another, we get flashbacks to seven days previously when another nurse Tahwaan (Chon Wachananon) is murdered by all of them. She was “engaged” to Dr Taa (Wichan Jarujinda) who decided he liked her younger sister Nook (Chidjan Rujiphun) much more. So much more, in fact, that he has gotten Nook pregnant.

Tahwaan learning the hard way about when not to threaten to call the police.

Tahwaan is, understandably, upset. She threatens to tell the police about Dr Taa and the six nurses’ sideline of selling dead bodies. Once this threat leaves her lips, the nurses grab her and force her onto an operating table. With Tahwaan struggling and fighting for her life, one of the women gives her an injection and another stabs her.

Now that Tahwaan is dead, Dr Taa sells her body, only to be told that the client cannot take delivery for seven days. Wrapping the body in a black plastic bag and putting it in the boot (trunk) of his car with dry ice, Taa plans on dropping the body off after the award ceremony. Meanwhile, the remaining nurses get separated and killed by the vengeful spirit of Tahwaan.

This film, if it had gotten a bigger budget and been filmed in Japan versus Thailand, might just have been scary as hell. As it is, it falls into the “so bad it’s good” category of so many other low-budget horror films. Due to the restrictions placed on Thai actresses concerning nudity, one nurse, and the doctor in an earlier scene, takes a shower with her clothes on. The incongruity of showering in gym shorts, a bra and a t-shirt is never explained and makes no real sense.

There are other “touches” in the film that are just as puzzling and funny. Younger sister Nook goes to the toilet to use a pregnancy test. When she urinates on the tester, it changes instantaneously to show the result. The scene then becomes even funnier when she goes to put the used tester back in her purse and it is full of testers. She must have twenty or thirty of the things in her bag.

Nook, again, is cornered on a stairwell by nurses who have no face, just hair (with a bun, yet) and they attack her. She battles these faceless nurses (there appear to be 50 or more) with a pregnancy tester, which appears to help her win against these outlandish odds. Most of the funnier scenes seemed to deal with Nook, although, the other nurses had their fair share of silly moments.

I watched this film quite a few years ago and stupidly traded it in for another film. Sick Nurses is almost sophomoric in its attempts to scare the audience, but it is these very amateurish attempts that make the film so enjoyable. The title of the film seems to refer to the foibles of the nurses themselves.

Am and Orn, narcissism times two.

Tahwaan has a secret, two of the nurses Am and Orn are narcissistic and only have eyes for each other (they are twins), another nurse is Anorexic, another is Bulimic, yet another is obsessed with jewellery and expensive items; and Nook is promiscuous enough to steal Dr Taa from her big sister. They all have some sort of “sickness;” hence the title Sick Nurses.

Once Tahwaan comes back as a dark (greenish?) vengeful spirit, the film relies on the old Asian axiom of long hair over the face and an OBE *In case you are interested OBE stands for One-Big-Eye.* to create fear.

When the girls are being controlled by Tahwaan, their body parts become dark green and work against them or each other as in the case with the twins. There is a plot twist at the end of the film that is shown via Dr Taa’s flashbacks. But the twist is not blazingly original. In fact it is the same plot twist used in the 2004 Thai film Shutter.

It appears that this particular theme is something that weighs on the average Thai citizen or is perhaps a very serious taboo. I can’t tell you what the twist is, but if you are familiar with the film, Shutter you will know.

In some instances, Sick Nurses almost appears to be intended to be a black comedy/horror. But some of the unintentional laughs (like those inspired by some really dodgy CGI) make it obvious that comedy/horror was not the directors’ or the producer’s aim.

Still, it is a fun film to watch and the simultaneous timeline of the plot works well enough for the viewer to admire the directors intent if not their final product.

My final verdict is that this is an interesting film to watch and if you have seen earlier Thai horror films you can see the improvement that they’ve made with the genre. Certainly not as good or clever as Shutter or 4bia (Phobia) it is nonetheless better than The Ghost of Mae Nak, or some of their earlier efforts.

Whatever these nurses are suffering from there are no pills for their ills and the film is definitely worth a look and a giggle.

Tahwaan paying back little sister Nook for her treachery.
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