Friday, August 20, 2010

Strange Films I've Seen: SICK NURSES

Introducing a new, ideally regular (monthly? bimonthly?) series, in which I eschew the festival circuit and write about, as the slug reads, a strange film I've seen. This could mean via Netflix, a DVD I own, something I saw at a friend's flat or in the theatre. Whatever. The only things to keep in mind here are 1. it's got to be a strange film and 2. my take will be laden with SPOILERS. So if you've not seen the film yet and you want to see it and fear that SPOILERS will ruin your viewing experience: don't read it!

With that cautionary word, my take on Sick Nurses:

I don't know what drove me to add Piraphan Laoyont and Thodsapol Siriwiwat's 2007 Thai horror film Sick Nurses to my Netflix queue. I think I'd been inundated with Jean-Pierre Melville's noirish Nouvelle Vague films and wanted to switch it up w/ Asian slasher films. I'd added some Korean I'd been meaning to get around to and Sick Nurses ended up in the lot. Then I bumped it to the top of the queue b/c the cover (of Chol Wachananont holding a scalpel against Kanya Rattanapetch's blood-streaked face) looked sexy, albeit in a slasher-film sexy way. Whatever, it looked like mindless eye candy. While I won't totally echo Bangkok Post film critic Kong Rithdee's complaints about the exploitative nature of the film, I do wonder how a film like this gets released in Thailand, while director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (whose latest, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, won the Palme d'Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival) found his medical-set film Syndromes and a Century was heavily censored in Thailand and enjoyed only an extremely limited run (let alone countryman Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, whose stoned-surrealist Last Life in the Universe wowed cinema darlings but whose latest, Ploy in 2007 and Nymph in 2009, despite making it to Cannes, were hung up in all sorts of censorship issues in Thailand and have yet to enjoy ANY U.S. presence). Weerasethakul has had some stateside success (Uncle Boonmee... is showing at next month's New York Film Festival) but limited screentime beyond the festival circuit. And good luck finding ANY of Ratanaruang's post-Last Life films in the states, even the semi-sequel Invisible Waves — let alone on Netflix, which is how I found Sick Nurses.

The film opens w/ a struggle between one attractive nurse, Tahwaan (played by Wachananont) v. six other attractive nurses. What exactly is going here, I'm not sure, but she cries out to baby-faced Dr. Tar (Wichan Jarujinda) for help as the others subdue her on an operating table. We get this inkling that they, Nurse Tahwaan and Dr. Tar, are lovers, only...Dr. Tar has been having an affair w/ another nurse, Nook (Chidjan Rujiphun), and it's Nook who takes the knife and literally stabs it in Tahwaan's heart. Also! We learn Dr. Tar is in on the organ trade, selling to the black market. And now-ex-girlfriend Tahwaan is his latest victim. And he's got to jet out to this medical awards ceremony thing, since he's like so well respected at this suburban hospital and the greater Bangkok community. This is obscenely weird. Whew, that was exhausting. Cut to scene of nurses hanging out in the break room and we get to meet them all! Aeh (played by Rattanapetch) is the cutie, reminds me slightly of a Thai Choi Ji-Hyun (but that's perhaps do to her penchant for wearing ruby-red lipstick), obsessively applying her makeup while spouting myths about dead lovers and how they're supposed to revisit before midnight to avenge their deaths, or something. She points out Nook is in trouble here, as she was sleeping w/ Dr. Tar. This insult rewards a slap across Aeh's face, smearing her lipstick and dealt by Yim (Ocha Wang), the "athletic one" who has body issues and constantly does yoga and resistance training on her off-hours. Jo (Dollaros Dachapratumwan) is snacking all the while on cereal, and when Aeh knocks her out of her chair she nearly chokes on said cereal. Issues!! And I haven't even, but may as well, touched on twins Orn and Am (played by real-life twins Ampairat and Ampaiwan Techapoowapat) who have Narcissus complexes. We'll see soon enough.

So: Dr. Tar receives a prize at this absurd medical awards ceremony but he's got to jet out of there — why? b/c the wrapped and dry-iced body of Tahwaan is chilling (no pun) in the trunk of his car, that's why! He's trying to deliver the body but dissociative voice on the other line claims it's not time yet. Which brings us back to the nurses. It's 11:45p-ish. Aeh, the insufferable materialist, is cutting out adverts for jewels and taping them to her body, like a necklace and earrings. Seriously. Then she parades around in heels, makeup (touched up now) and cut-out jewelry w/ her brand new, gorgeous handbag. And then: she sees something. Cut to: Yim, working out in her dorm room, showering with her clothes on (hmm...), mixing like eight shampoos together, one of which contains evil ghost hair!!

Cut to: Jo, chowing down on various snack foods in her girly dorm-room. She applies some skin cream to her face, then DRINKS it and retches that and the contents of her stomach into a trashbag. OK, she's a bulimic. Then a quick mouthwash and toothbrush and she's good as new, ready to snack. Only: she sees a creepy spectre in the mirror, which looks sort of like Tahwaan if we think of her along the lines of Steven Klein's infamous blackface fashion spread for French Vogue. This spectre — the ghost Tahwaan that Aeh had eerily predicted earlier — apparently can remote-command the girls to do her bidding. In this case, that means force Jo to brush her teeth until her gums bleed. She lets her go, but it's enough to get Jo freaked the hell out and running for her life. Cut to: twins Om and Am making out under the sheets. I'm serious. Hence the Narcissus complex: they're in love w/ their own reflection, sort of. Cut to Nook: taking a pregnancy test, and she's positive! Yes, carrying the good doctor's baby. This is not going to turn out well.

Aeh is running scared down the hall, sees someone in her peripherals and thinks its the ghost of Tahwaan, freaks out, runs a different direction, hears a crash, screams, falls to the ground in front of her favorite handbag, from which the ghost of Tahwaan is crawling out of, the handbag. Get all that? Meanwhile, Yim is attacked by hair, straight out of Sion Sono's Exte, only this time the hair turns her upside down and drowns her in her own aquarium. Nook hears a sound outside the bathroom door, returns the pregnancy test to her clutch (full of other, used?, pregnancy tests) and exits, finding Orn and Am trapped under Tahwaan's control. Instead of helping them, she screams and takes off, runs down the hall, encounters Aeh in passing (a genius technique by the directors: most of this action is occurring between the 11:45p and 11:50p time, so they edited the multiple storylines quite well), and ends up in a spookily lit operating room. THAT operating room. Complete w/ a table bearing a curled-up sobbing figure, hidden beneath a sheet.

We get a flashback here (this is how the directors operate, for like 1/2 the film I didn't know what was going on, there were these nurses who killed another nurse, who returned as a ghost to kill them, each woman has her private obsession and the doctor seems to be quite the rat-bastard — well, that much was clear before the flashbacks): apparently Tahwaan used to hide out for Dr. Tar in this operating room and they make love on the sly. Only this time, while she waits for him, concealed under a sheet, Nook enters and Dr. Tar begins putting the moves on her instead. Tahwaan watches in tearful silence as Dr. Tar pledges his love and then has sex with her. Afterward, Tahwaan attacks Nook, and we learn they are SISTERS (I wish I were making this up, but I'm not), and this incident leads to the nurses grabbing Tahwaan, pinning her down (the childish Am seems the most reluctant of the lot, cowering next to Nook), as she grabs at Aeh's hair and screams for the doctor. He hands off a knife to Nook, who finishes the task. Oh! This whole while, brief cuts back to Dr. Tar, at a payphone or driving in his car, wondering when he can get rid of the body. He has flashbacks too, perhaps back to his medical school days, involving a lithe dude doctor who obvs has the hots for him and wants to marry him.

Back to the action! Jo gets it bad. Tahwaan possesses her to dig head-first through garbage cans and stuff her face in an ashtray. She collides w/ a tray of medical instruments (the crash Aeh heard earlier) and lands in a room full of formaldehyde jars (fetuses, jawbones, organs, you know...), the door closing behind her. Oh she KNOWS what's about to happen, pleads for her life, and Tahwaan, perhaps pitying her or perhaps showing just how sick and f-ed up she obviously is, forces Jo to swallow a handful of razor blades instead. The film has not been very bloody thus far, if you can believe that. But this scene, w/ Jo struggling as blood gushes from her mouth, is pretty disgusting. I suppose it's better than having to watch her get force-fed the contents of formaldehyde jars? Elsewhere, Nook finds Aeh precariously walking around with that handbag on her head, like around and on top of her head. Apparently after a round of hair-pulling, Tahwaan was content to stick the bag on Aeh's head and be done w/ her. Nook tries to help her, being a good friend of course, but in undoing the stitching around the base of the bag she involuntary decapitates Aeh. Think of Alvin Schwartz's "The Red Ribbon", from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, only w/ lots of spurting blood.

Meanwhile: Am and Orn get split up, not in a grisly sense but they lose track of one another, and Am ends up in I guess a security room? Or a room w/ a bunch of video monitors IN ADDITION to operating tables. B/c she has to watch her colleagues get mowed down by the ghostly Tahwaan. She sees her sister getting mugged by Tahwaan in a stalled freight lift then, suddenly, Orn is in the same room as Am (no questions asked), prone on a box-enclosed operating table. And yes, Tahwaan forces Am to do precisely what she doesn't want to do: eviscerate her twin with a bone-saw. Only: Orn is possessed as well and willing to help her! Another flashback: good ol' Dr. Tar was flirtatious (or entirely out of line, depending on how you look at it) w/ all his nurses: groping Orn and Yim, feeding a cream puff to Jo, giving Aeh that lovely handbag, in addition to sleeping w/ Nook and Tahwaan. I guess evil Tahwaan realizes this, and that Am never wanted to kill her in the first place, b/c she leaves her alone after sawing away at her twin for a few hours (at least it felt that long), so Am commits suicide instead. Tahwaan possesses Nook to coax the good doctor back to the hospital, quick!, then dukes it out w/ her on the front lawn. But: the clock strikes midnight, Nook prevails, and the doctor returns just in time to find his bride-to-be. Only... it's Tahwaan! Or actually it's Tahwaan before, not the MTF post-op Tahwaan but the dude from medical school, bleeding all over like Carrie. Dr. Tar, conveniently, doesn't know what to do and freezes in place. So Nook reappears and sets fire to Tawhaan, immolating her. Which should work, but this is an Asian horror film, so instead Tahwaan attacks Nook once more, being reborn through her — if the last 80 minutes were an endless series of one-upping, jaw-dropping shockers, this one takes it way further — into a blood-soaked man who reaches out to Dr. Tar, reminding him once again that they should get married. The end.