At the Gate of the Ghost

 

At the Gate of the Ghost

[aka: The Outrage]

[Original title: U mong pa meung]

Based on the play At the Gate of the Ghost by M. R. Kukrit Pramoj

and the short story In a Grove (1922) by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

and on Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon

Cinematography: Panom Phromchat

Editing: Sirikan Srichulabhorn

Music: Chatchai Pongprapaphan

Production Design: Patrix Meesaiyaat

Art Direction: Niti Samithtasing

Visual Effects Supervisor: Artaya Boonsoong

Costume Design: Noppadol Techo

Makeup: Montri Wadia-iad

Sound Design: Nopawat Likitwong

Martial Art Director: Panna Rittikrai

Produced by Somsak Techarattanapresert

Written & Directed by M.L. Bhandevanov Devakula

2011

 

Featuring:

Mario Maurer as the Monk

Ananda Everingham as the Warlord

Chermarn Boonyasak as the Wife

Phongpat Wachirabanjhong as the Undertaker

Phettai Wongkamiao as the Woodcutter

Dom Hetrakul as the Bandit

Ratklao Amaratisha as the Medium

Sakarat Lerkthamrong as the Prince

 

Studio:

Theatrical: SahamongkolFilm International

Video: Magnet/Magnolia

 

Video:

Aspect Ratio: 2.36:1

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: 50 GB

Feature size: ca. 29 GB

Bit Rate: Moderate-High (25-35 Mbps)

Runtime: 107 minutes

Chapters: 11

Region: A / NTSC

 

Audio

Thai DTS-HD MA 5.1

 

Subtitles

Optional English

 

Extras:

The Making of a Legendary Story - in SD (7:10)
Behind the Scenes (4:10)

Magnolia trailers

 

Presentation:

Amarary Blu-ray case: BRD x 1

Release Date: April 16, 2013



Synopsis [Magnolia]:

In this adaptation of the Japanese film Rashomon, a young monk leaves his temple to seek his father's counsel after being disturbed by a murder trial in which he was called as a witness. Along the way, he encounters a poor man who also testified at the trial, and the two take refuge in an abandoned burial tunnel during a storm. They are met by an old beggar who joins in their disturbing conversation about the trial. In vivid detail, each story is witnessed on screen as it is told from the bandit's, the wife's and the warlord's perspectives, all riddled with bias and personal agenda. In the end, the young monk is left to determine what is the meaning is of truth and of consequence, not only in this murder trial, but in choosing to continue on his monastic path.


     

 

The Movie: 7

Where to start? Akira Kurosawa’s award-winning 1951 Rashōmon is the fulcrum for this 2011 Thai adaptation, but even Kurosawa’s movie is based on an earlier short story: In a Grove by the young Ryunosuke Akutagawa in 1915. Akutagawa had written a story several years earlier titled Rashōmon but very little of that story found their way into Kurosawa’s film, written by the way, by Shinobu Hashimoto, a longtime Kurosawa collaborator, who wrote, among others, Ikuru, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood and, for Masaki Kobayashi, Harakiri.


     

 

Both the Thai title At the Gate of the Ghost and Kurosawa’s title Rashōmon refer to a castle’s gate beyond which resides the “truth” - or in both cases: “truths” - though they differ from the traditional 15th century Noh play Rashōmon in that back then the protagonist needed to climb the gate to find the demon at the top. In Kurosawa’s film, it is merely the name of the gate; in the Thai film, the title suggests the demon, who takes the form of the medium through whom the dead man speaks.


     
 

 

M.L. Bhandevanov Devakula’s 2011 film is, at first blush, not a great more than a translation of Kurosawa’s film into Thai terms. But the ways in which it differs make for a fascinating viewing experience. The new film is photographed in lush colors and has a deliberate unreal feeling to it – taking it as a kind of fairy tale would not be an injustice. Where the Japanese film is gritty and dynamic, the Thai film is leisurely and lyrical - the seduction and murder takes place in a forested beach in front of a misty waterfall. The costuming and makeup is eye-catching. By contrast, the conversation among the three commentators takes place in a cave, cut off from the rest of the world; whereas Kurosawa places them in a temple whose sides are exposed to a relentless storm.


     

 

Perhaps the most interesting difference between the two films is that Kurosawa revels in ambiguity, whereas Devakula insists on explication. The reason for the execution of the bandit is couched in pantheistic terms; the monk has an elaborate backstory and a suitable epilogue; the wife has some damning things to say about their marriage; the “undertaker” takes on the role of Greek chorus; and the entire story is dedicated to, and is expected to be understood within, the “teachings of The Buddha.”  That said, there is something to be gained by granting each succeeding version of the crime an increasing sense of flamboyance and craziness, which isn’t Kurosawa’s intention.


     

 

It came to me while re-watching Kurosawa’s Rashōmon last week that the several versions of the murder all begin after the rape, and that there is agreement up that point. The Japanese film is less than 90 minutes, so I assume this is not done in order to keep the movie from running long, though it might be useful to start after the rape in order to narrow the focus. In the new film, the wife’s testimony offers some insight about the seduction, which she does not in Kurosawa’s film. In either case, it seems to me that the stories differ because stories we tell about ourselves are an extension of our identity and, in the telling, we make clear not only how we rationalize our behavior but what is unique about ourselves. It is interesting in this respect that Kurosawa does not explicate the stories of the three strangers who meet at the temple; but Devakula does. Devakula seems to think that all stories are equally important, whereas Kurosawa tells us that the stories told in extremis are the ones we feel passionately about. It could be argued that the reason the stories told by the characters involved in the murder are so vivid is not only because there is a murder but because they have stories to tell and the bookenders don’t – about themselves, I mean. In this, Devakula’s movie is a serious departure.


     

 

Technically, too, there are similarities and differences: There are many camera set-ups that are more or less identical to Kurosawa’s, but Devakula’s direction of his actors is much looser. Kurosawa’s actors, without exception, intensely inhabit their characters. We never experience anyone losing their focus, even for a moment. There isn’t a moment of daylight into which his audience can locate themselves; instead his actors grab us by the throat and never let go until the end. This rarely happens in Devakula’s film, where we are always aware we are looking at a movie. His actors occasionally loose their concentration. This is more true of Chermarn Boonyasak as the desirable Wife, Phettai Wongkamiao as the shamefaced Woodcutter and Dom Hetrakul as the gleeful Bandit and, to a lesser extent, Phongpat Wachirabanjhong’s hysterical Undertaker. Ananda Everingham’s Warlord Ratklao Amaratisha is touchingly expressive, even when bound and gagged, as he should be. Ratklao Amaratisha as the Medium never loses a beat, but then hers is more performance than acting. 23-year old Mario Maurer’s Monk is a curiously bland characterization. I think he’s supposed to reflect innocence, which he does very well, but he is also supposed to obtain wisdom, which, alas, he does not.


     

 

At the Gate of the Ghost sports a quasi-international cast, which I didn’t expect, considering the difficulties of the language. In addition to some well-known native Thai actors (Phettai Wongkamiao from Ong Bak, Dom Hetrakul from Bangkok Dangerous and Chermarn Boonyasak from Last Life in the Universe and The Love of Siam), we find Mario Maurer (Thai-German) and Ananda Everingham (Thai-Laotian-Australian). This is as good a pace as any to apologies for spelling confusions that I am sure abound in this review: Romanizations of Thai names are even more troublesome than Korean. For example, the director is listed in the film’s credits as M.L. Bhandevanov Devakula but in Wikipedia he becomes Pundhevanop Dhewakul; Chermarn Boonyasak is Laila Boonyasak, and on it goes.


     

 

Image: 8/9

Except for the odd and inconsistent lighting inside the tunnel, which – by design, I should think - does lead to crush and some added medium grain, the color, sharpness and contrast is quite wonderful throughout. Devakula does allow the bright areas to blow out at times, but this also seems deliberate. On the other hand, there appear to be no distracting transfer issues. Colors are lush and pastel by turns as the art design demands. Some shots are softer than others for no apparent reason, but the overall impression works convincingly as a fairy tale.


     

 

Audio & Music: 7/7

Somehow I expected more from this title: not bombast, certainly, but subtlety, especially in the forest where I wanted a more immersive or suggestive canopy. There was something there, just not present enough for me. Neither was there much in the way of deep or well-focused bass, such as I would expect for certain drums. On the other hand, the chorus that opens and closes the film is perfectly balanced – just enough to feel their presence and hear the words. Other than as just noted, dialogue, effects and music are generally well-balanced and placed.


     

 

Extras: 2

There are two bonus features, both in standard definition, but only one is subtitled. The other is a brief behind-the-scenes sequence of raw footage bits that I can’t imagine would have been helped much by a voiceover in any case. The other is titled The Making of a Legendary Story, which, for the first three minutes or so consists of brief interview clips where each actor describes his character, the remaining four minutes discusses casting with a few seconds set aside to tell us that most of the dialogue comes from M. R. Kukrit Pramoj’s play.


     

 

Recommendation: 7

While not nearly in the same class as Kurosawa’s classic film, At the Gate of the Ghost is eminently watchable, enjoyable and interesting for its departures. The pace of the new film is more informal and, by comparison, lacking in grit and intensity; but to be fair, it is going for a different audience experience. The Blu-ray transfer is very good, though the Bonus Features are slim and tell us next to nothing that is not evident by watching the film.


     



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

April 15, 2013


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