Monday, May 31, 2010

Love Me, Dub Me

Sometimes I forget what a bumbling, albeit enjoyable experience it is to watch a dubbed film. With extremely rare exceptions (I don’t actually know of any but I hate to believe in any absolutes), genre films with overenthusiastic American voiceover artists generally amuse on a campy and awkward level as opposed to ever seamlessly integrating to cause real scares. Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror  is a joy, but that doesn’t mean it works.
Tanit Jitnukul's Art of the Devil marks my first foray into Thai horror and while it has a few effective moments of artistry, I’ll preface this review with the admission that any real tension is skimmed down by the dreadfully bland, I assume poorly translated English dubbed track. 
Quick Plot: 
A pretty, light-headed young woman named Boom is quickly romanced by a wealthy married architect who enjoys watching her dance with his pals. You should know that your relationship is in trouble when on the first date, you're asked to remove your top and get jiggy with others but you know...charm goes a long way.

Pregnant and pissed off when her married one-time lover proves less than thrilled and more than slap-happy, Boom takes the logical step of employing Thai voodoo vengeance on his entire family, inspiring an Amityville 2 -like murder-suicide rampage on his household in the hopes of inheriting everything that’s left. 
Life never quite works out the way you expect, and before she can claim a not really rightful place at the head of an oversized dinner table, a previous family emerges complete with an apparently ageless former mistress mother, her eligible bachelor son, mallrat daughter, other son that will prove easy early fodder, and bratty kid brother with the voice of a squeak toy. It doesn’t take long for Boom to work her feminine wiles on a very eager to be engaged bachelor and before you can attempt to read any of the unsubtitled cue cards that are written in Thai regarding the passage of time, people are vomiting up gooey eels and children are taking drawing lessons from Cabin Fever’s pancake loving Dennis.

On one hand, Art of the Devil is a fairly straight story about a woman scorned and those that suffer in her tracks. This being my first full Thai film, I don’t know how indicative it is of that nation’s genre films but it’s a well-made, albeit tragically dubbed horror with some earned scares and haunting moments. It also contains paper-thin characters that leave little impression and a convoluted second act script that gets lost in a tangle of unnecessary mystery. For this viewer, the final effect rested somewhere in the middle.

High Points
It’s a personal taste to be sure, but I just never tire of seeing crayon colored scenes of child-like carnage
Low Points
Not sure if it’s the English track or original sound choice, but making the demon voices sound alternately like South Park’s Satan and an angry Munchkin of Oz wasn’t the best idea anybody’s ever had

Lessons Learned
People will think your man isn’t macho if he doesn’t take a few sips of liquor in private
Doctor/patient confidentiality in Thailand is defined as thus: call a nurse. Ask for information regarding a future appointment of another person, and receive a complete medical history of said stranger along with a full report of past visits
Saying “I don’t drink” doesn’t really mean anything if you reluctantly down a glass nine times over the course of a 100 minute film
Working around drunk people can be dangerous (yet much safer than having a vengeful sister-in-law)

If viewed with proper subtitling, Art of the Devil may indeed by something of an effective ghostly revenge story. Eerie imagery occasionally oozes in, and voodoo fans or those interested in South East Asian spiritual vengeance tales may find the film compelling. On the other hand, the English dubbed track that runs with the Instant Watch cut simply can’t fail to make you laugh at everything from forced sound (apparently characters are never silent but will indeed mumble “Uh” on constant loop when alone onscreen) and clumsily translated dialog. I don’t discourage a watch, as the last half does kick into fairly creepy territory, but at the same time, I can think of few readers who will fall in love with this film. If found at a library in its original Thai track, give it ago. If slightly drunk (even though you don’t drink and/or don’t mind not appearing macho), watch with refills.


  1. I added this to my watch now list so long ago, and now I might just have to sit down and watch it. This sounds pretty messed up.

  2. I can definitely relate to the joys of dubbing. When I tried to get back into Godzilla films a few years back, I kept pushing myself to the dubbed versions to make me laugh. It just makes any movie goofy and fun.

  3. So much Mikeness!

    Snoonian: Give it a go. The mood is inconsistent, but the final act gets rather eerie and is well worth the watch, especially if it's a stream.

    Mike, The: Agreed. On one hand, it destroys any real credibility to a film. On the other, it's usually hilarious.

  4. I adore horror movies and this site! :) I usually only watch foreign horror with subtitles since the dubbing is so distracting. But for a laugh (or a drinking game) it can be a lot of fun. The subtitles can be wonderfully goofy too. I wish I could remember the name of the movie but a friend and I were watching one once where the subtitle said "How much you think of yourself! So proud! When really, you are toilet!" and to this day we'll point accusingly at one another randomly and repeat that line.

  5. Thanks Nicole! Agreed that any 'good' film should be watched in its original language, at least to properly gauge performance and such. But sometimes, we all need to remember that really, we are just toilets.