On the top floor of the Coliseum, a tiny mall in Surat Thani, Thailand, is a movie theatre named the Coliseum Cineplex. It was there that we spent two happy hours watching Thai people (living and undead) tear each other to bits in Phi Ha Ayodhaya (The Black Death).
Before the film began, just to set the wrong kind of atmosphere, we were treated to a short interlude to appreciate the King of Thailand. A pretty (and likely patriotic) song blared, while images of waterfalls, rainbows, and the King doing goodly deeds cascaded down the screen. It was very peaceful. Very gentle. And the entire audience stood for the occasion.
After this rather lovely interlude the film kicked straight into a shaky cam battle scene, the speakers blasting the sort of shrieks you’d normally expect to hear from horny pterodactyls. There was gore, and clanging steel, and limbs being hacked off. It was glorious.
What followed from this introductory battle was a bit of a shambles. Various scenes were set with people in quiet surroundings. They’d be chopping wood or some other forgettable, menial task, then suddenly there would be a strange and alarming noise. There would be an obligatory close-up of the worried face of the victim – then they’d be having their limbs torn off, their previously worried expression momentarily changing to surprise before getting eaten off. In once such scene a pair of naked lovers in a river (taboo areas tastefully concealed) were attacked by some mysterious apparition in the steamy water. After the man was dragged under to his death, we saw a shot of the woman not screaming, but merely looking uncomfortable. This shot lasted about 30 seconds – long enough to make me feel uncomfortable. When her lover’s blood eventually blobbed to the surface, she finally screamed, tearing at my eardrums as the speakers struggled to produce whatever sound the director had intended.
The main characters didn’t really matter. There were three main female leads who were entirely interchangeable, a handful of male leads who were entirely predictable, and a couple of one-dimensional antagonists; a pimp with his dumb muscle guards and an overbearing father who kind of vanished halfway through the film – presumed eaten. Thrown in were some romantic interludes that were neither complex, original or particularly interesting.
To give a little background, the film was set in 1565, when a ‘Black Death’ descended upon the Thai Royal Capital, brought over on ships by the Portuguese and the Iranians (odd, yes). Essentially, people who died from the Black Death were reanimated as zombies, although the reason for this reanimation was never explained. We knew that they were zombies, because halfway through the film the main characters started referring to them as ‘zombies’. That in itself was interesting, since these same characters didn’t seem to know the core principles of zombie logic – such as if one is bitten, one will become a zombie.
But make no mistake here, this movie was splendid. With the attempt at having a story out of the way, the entertainment began. Swords sliced people in two. Flesh was torn from bones. Eyes were gouged. Scantily clad, good-looking actors abounded. And the most wonderful aspect about all this gore was that none of it was computer generated. The zombies who met their end brutally were gooey, gore-covered puppets and animatronics. Modern Thai Grindhouse.
About traveling though Asia on a motorbike
And cycling through China
And climbing a fucking difficult mountain in Borneo