Thursday, August 19, 2021

Khun Chang Khun Paen Prab Jorrakay Thaen Kward (1982)

... aka: ขุนช้างขุนแผน ตอนปราบจรเข้เถรขวาด
... aka: Crocodile Therakwad
... aka: Khun Chang Khun Paen
... aka: Khun Chang Khun Paen: Defeat the Crocodile

Directed by:
Sompote Saengduenchai

The team behind KRAI THONG (1980) are back with yet another crocodile film, again based on an old Thai folk tale / epic poem. Only a tiny portion of that folk tale is covered here. The inspiration is Khun Chang Khun Phaen, which was passed down from generation to generation by troubadours, who traveled from village to village giving sepha performances (basically telling the story while clicking together two pieces of wood). After surviving for centuries by oral tradition, the poem was finally written down and published in 1872, while the mass-published standard edition occurred in 1917 in three separate volumes totaling 1082 pages! Though it was finally fully translated into English in 2010, it remains virtually unknown here in America. However, it is universally known in Thailand and has been ingrained in their culture to the point where Thai children learn passages from it in school and it's the source of various common Thai sayings. In addition to the book versions, it's also been the basis for comic books, songs, paintings, stage plays and a whole host of film and TV adaptations.

On the small screen, televised versions date back to 1955. An epic 500 episode version aired on Thai TV in 1970 and then it was also serialized in 1985, 1998 and 2021; the latter adaptation free to view on Youtube. There have been at least five film versions, the first of which was a silent two part film dating back to 1936, with the most recent theatrical film being made in 2001.

For all its bells and whistles and politics and adventures, Khun Chang Khun Phaen, the literary work, is basically a love triangle at heart. Wanthong, lead female in the piece, is torn between two men: Chang, who's rich but unattractive, and Phaen, who's good-looking but poor. I don't even know if black magic and crocodile attacks figure prominently anywhere in the original epic or if Saengduenchai just wanted an excuse to reuse the models from his previous film CROCODILE (1980) but this does at least retain the love triangle plotting somewhat, though it's more like a love hexagon here. Neither the Chang nor Wanthong characters are here and the sexes have been reversed for the key players. Oh, and nearly everyone is very good looking.

Bald, pot-bellied and fifty-something Master Taen (played by comedian Charan "Gray" Petcharoen) has found a new way to invigorate his love life. Using black magic "love spells," he's able to get lush young beauties to fall head over heels for him, lust for his dad bod and try to rip the clothes right off of him! He also has the ability to snap these ladies right back out of their horny state by simply blowing on them, which he does whenever they become too annoying or he's merely wanting to move on to his next victim. Afterward, the women have no clue what they've even done with this pervert. Master Taen also knows a spell he can use to transform into a giant crocodile. His young understudy (D. R. Samart) has also learned some of his magic and can also transform into a crocodile. During one incredibly tasteless scene, the apprentice uses the love spell on an adult woman, gets her to climb into bed with him and remove her top. This probably wouldn't be so tasteless except for the fact the understudy is just a child and looks to be about 8 or 9 years old!

We then meet the other main characters and get involved in their seriously screwed up love lives. Handsome, wealthy young nobleman Phra Phi (Toon Hiranyasap) has two pretty wives: the gracious and sweet Simala (Naowarat Yuktanan) and the bitchy, possessive and jealous Soifa (Duangcheewan Komolsen), Despite Soifa's best efforts to gain her husband's attention (like basically tackling him as soon as he enters the door!), Phra Phi is almost entirely interested in Simala, which had me wondering why he even married Soifa in the first place. Yes, I know polygamy was widely practiced in Thailand at the time, but just because you can doesn't mean you should, right?

After having a temper tantrum and stomping on a bowl of fruit, Soifa and her sleazy servant (Janthana Siriporn) go to Master Taen for help. The servant is actually already very well acquainted with the Master because she's been sleeping with him and trying (in vain) to get him to stop molesting every other woman he meets. Taen levitates, floats around, disappears and creates two voodoo dolls of Phra Phi and Simala, which he uses to inflict pain on them to the point where they both pass out. Soifa then sneaks into their bedroom and slips the voodoo dolls inside a pillow, which causes Phra Phi to lust after her while making Simala look like a disfigured freak in his eyes (she looks normal to everyone else). Phra Phi immediately rejects Simala and starts treating her like dirt. He slaps her around, ties her to a pole and then whips her with a stick. Soifa has Master Taen then cast another spell to try to get Simala to seduce Phra Phi's brother, Chumphon (Tanit Pongmanoon), so she'll get kicked out of the home for good. However, Chumphon manages to resist the spell and runs off into the woods.

Suspecting something is afoot, Phra Phi and Chumphon's father, Phaen (Sombat Methanee), shows up to get to the bottom of things. Phaen is not only a high-ranking army captain but also has magical abilities of his own and is immediately able to see that a spell has been cast. He goes to King Panwasa (Sor Asanajinda) to ask for permission to conduct an investigation. Now cornered, Master Taen reverts to his crocodile form and starts attacking and killing off soldiers and villagers. The guilty non-crocodile parties all get dragged into court, where the two wives are forced to walk on hot coals. If they're innocent, Buddha will keep them from harm. Needless to say, Soifa fails the test. Meanwhile, Master Taen and his pupil escape and continue slaughtering people; prompting Phaen to lead a crocodile hunt with other villagers.

The plot here reminds me a lot of those older Japanese ghost films with a bunch of people conspiring against the tormented female protagonist until they finally get their just desserts. Only here, it's balanced out with a lot humor and, instead of ghosts, we get some black magic and a bunch of crocodile attacks. I'd say that's a fair enough trade. This also occasionally throws in some truly bizarre stuff like a living skeleton that also appears as a white-haired witch with bloody skin and eventually gets one of its eyes ripped out, a lengthy catfight between two servant girls where they pull hair and bite each other, brief and very crude stop motion animation as two voodoo dolls come to life and something that looks like a leftover character from one of Saengduenchai's unauthorized Ultraman movies (either that or a giant piñata) that's just randomly floating in the sky until it gets blown up!

I'm also glad I watched this soon after KRAI THONG 2 (1985) because now I can confirm that many of the croc attack scenes featured in KT2, which actually lifted that movie considerably, were just stolen from this one. The repeated scenes include the military guys and naked boys getting attacked, the guy trying to teach his daughter how to row a boat getting attacked (the daughter somehow ends up with slit throat but awful editing keeps us from even seeing how), the family fixing their roof getting attacked, the guy trying to lasso the croc and the funny scene of the man trying to save a young woman and pulling off her pants instead. However, in this longer version of the scene, thong girl actually escapes from the croc and then it swings back around and kills the guy instead!

This is another one that's never been released in English though the plot isn't that hard to follow. It was released on VCD and DVD by Tisa Company in Thailand and runs 113 minutes.

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