Ghost of Mae Nak (2005)

Michael Buening

This is a modern, but alas, substandard, interpretation of an enduring classic horror story.

Ghost of Mae Nak

Director: Mark Duffield
Cast: Pataratida Pacharawirapong, Siwat Chotchaicharin, Porntip Papanai, Jaran Ngamdee, Meesak Nakarat
Distributor: Tartan Asia Extreme
MPAA rating: Unrated
Studio: De Warrenne Pictures
First date: 2005
US DVD Release Date: 2006-10-10

The legend of Mae Nak is one of the most popular ghost stories in Thailand and has been the basis for over 20 movies from the silent era to the present. With such enduring popularity it seems long overdue that an ambitious producer with his pulse on overextended trends would try giving this legend the ol' J-horror makeover. It's really simple: all you have to do is exchange a dated, turn-of-the-century country peasant ghost look for white body paint and black hair dye and you're made.

To exploit their Bangkok connections to cash in on a fad, however belated, was undoubtedly part of the plan for low-budget British production company De Warrenne Pictures with its version of the story, Ghost of Mae Nak. That it was picked up by Tartan Asia Extreme, DVD distributor of Takashi Miike and Ringu et al., further indicates a desire to tap a well that may have run dry. But besides a few gratuitous death sequences and the presence of the titular ghost, the script is much closer to the romantic, folk religion-tinged origins of the original Thai story than the eerie gore of most Asian horror.

The original story concerns a 19th century rural villager, Mak, who returns home from war not knowing that his wife, Nak, is a now a ghost. She died during childbirth while he was away. When the villagers try to warn Mak that the woman he came home to is a ghost, Nak kills and harasses anybody who threatens to separate the two until Buddhist monks finally exorcise her unnatural spirit. Though Mak and Nak are victims of dire circumstances, the village must exert control in order to keep their tenuous society intact.

This tale is related through the grandmother, suitably wrinkled and foreboding, who tells of a modern-day girl named Nak (Pataratida Pacharawirapong) -- who is not dead. In this version, Nak is engaged to her own Mak (Siwat Chotchaicharin) (bear with me here). After this cute, idealistic couple gets married and moves into a decrepit house, the original ghost Nak (Jaran Ngamdee), now named Mae Nak for clarity, starts haunting Mak to try and get him to save her still tortured soul. Apparently the Buddhist monks that originally exorcised her had cut out a portion of her skull, which Mak unknowingly bought in a shop (after the bone had been refashioned into a broche), and it needs to be placed back in the corpse's head before her ghost can finally rest in peace. While they try to figure what it is that Mae Nak wants, the ghost helps Mak and Nak by threatening sleazy city types taking advantage of their precocious naïveté. After Mak is hit by a car and goes into a coma, it's up to Nak to return the bone to the corpse. This takes way too long to happen; for some reason Nak has to be told repeatedly that she needs to return the bone before realizing this might be a good idea.

If there's a subtext to be gleaned from this sloppy narrative, it involves the evocation of ancient traditions connecting the two Mae Nak stories. Several key scenes (including the couple's opening marriage and a final exorcism) involve Buddhist rituals and the putting down of Mae Nak corresponds with the idea of ending cycles of rebirth. Mak and Nak live in a Bangkok of dreary sheet metal facades, where smart young adults work in high tech office buildings only to return to cramped homes on dirty streets. Mae Nak is a connection to a simpler past of devoted families and loyal marriages. But this past is corrupted and it is Nak's duty to reconcile these errors to restore a sense of balance to the present.

Technically, the film is pretty crude. The images are grainy and framed without any tension. Montage and scare scenes progress with arrhythmic awkwardness, further marred by premature money shots of a spirit willing to show her face early and often. Mae Nak is a funny ghost. She helps and seems to like Mak and Nak, but also scares them and eventually possesses Mak without explanation. More than anything the ghost exists as a "shit happens" malevolent force, used to liven up the story, rather than a character with consistent motivation. Her method of killing is dull and accidental; usually she simply shows herself and the seer falls out of a window from fright. Overall director Mark Duffield is clueless as to how to scare an audience; a "gotcha" coda is completely fumbled when Mak and Nak out-gotcha the gotcha.

The film is much more successful at upholding the conservative values of a happily married, religiously observant young couple. While Mak is in a coma, Nak hast to run through a gauntlet of corrupting forces -- a shady real estate dealer, a couple of thieves, a geeky crush who won't take "no" for answer -- in order to save her husband and restore the goodness of her marriage. She is helped by Mae Nak who, as in the past, harasses whoever gets in Nak's way. But Nak's success is finally due to her plucky persistence and reliance on traditional rituals and values to achieve her ends.

By creating a modern correlation of the Mae Nak legend in order to uphold traditional values in an industrializing society, Ghost of Mae Nak projects a certain sweetness. However, by updating the story with a much happier ending from the original lore, the film ignores the creepier and more subversive elements of the original story that I suspect are the reason for the legend's popularity. Mae Nak is much more interesting than Nak, a devoted wife who apparently feels no qualms about living with her husband as a ghost and is devoted to the point of murder. This is an amusing play on the conservative ideals of a devoted wife. (And really, if the husband can't figure it out on his own, why not just let them be?) Both stories are essentially about the sacrifices a couple makes for their marriage, but the original story presents sacrifice in a much more complicated light, as an intersection of personal and societal obligations that don't always resolve themselves.

Perhaps spicing a moral story up with the odd decapitation was Duffield's way of creating a ribald contrast to the golden couple. But the horror story and the love story never sufficiently gel together, making for an awkward muddle of a genre hybrid. In the end, I would rather watch another movie about the old bewitched odd couple Mak and Nak than the perky do-gooders of today.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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