September 8, 2009 – 4:06 am

If Anthony Wong had his human dumplings in The Untold Story, then Mai Charoenpura has her human meatballs in Meat Grinder, a film that’s been touted as one of Thailand’s extreme horror films. Stephen Tan reviews.

Any film that involves butchery and human meat will inevitably be compared to The Untold Story (1993). Thiwa Meyathaisong’s Meat Grinder (2009) is no different though it touches on different nerves.

Using her pushcart, Buss (Mai Charoenpura) sells meatball noodles on the streets in Thailand but one day finds a dead body in her cart after a street riot. Doing what seems to come naturally to her, she turns the dead body into fresh meatballs, very much to the delight of her unsuspecting customers.

A man turns up looking for his wife, Aoi (who was working for Buss). Buss says the woman had run away with her husband. The man won’t take no for an answer but with her chopper, Buss soon put a stop to that. But first, taking her anger out on the man, she hacks off his leg, nails his fingers to the floor before stuffing spices into him. Her subsequent victims help make her stall a success and she now opens a restaurant from her home.

A loanshark is hounding Buss since her husband has absconded after owing a pile of debts. One night the loanshark turns up with his friends looking for some sex and their money but decided to try out the meatballs first. Buss drugs the food before serving them and then kills them in a flurry of violence: one has a knife stuck into his mouth; another gets his head repeatedly based onto a nail and the loanshark gets his throat cut.

Meanwhile, Attaphol (Rattanabanrang Tosawat), who works at the local medicine shop, is looking for his friend (the one who died in the cart). Attaphol befriends Buss and the two even have sex but the young Attaphol is also interested in Nida (Pimchanok Luevisadpaibul), a student from the neighbourhood. Attaphol becomes suspicious of Buss but the woman strikes first when she drugs and imprisons Nida in a tank filled with severed heads and limbs. A flashback reveals that Buss had killed her husband and his lover after they had drowned her young daughter.

An abused childhood, uncaring parents and forced to marry because she was carrying her stepfather’s child, the story of Buss is already a sorry one. But when she turns to manslaughter, Meat Grinder becomes both tragic and horrific.

As the saying goes, if life hands you a lemon, you make lemonade. In Buss’s case, she makes meatballs. A slight hesitancy (or remorse?) before she moves in for the kill might make her even more sympathetic but her cold blooded actions reveal the defiant tone of a woman pushed into a corner, unhinged and striking back.

If Thai horror is remembered for its Shutter and variation of the pale, long-haired ghost in a white dress, then with its splatter and carnage, Meat Grinder will be another milestone movie. But what surprised Thai viewers is that Phranakorn Film, the production company behind Meat Grinder, is known for low-end comedies and cheap action films.

With the charismatic Mai Charoenpura in the lead, the film is aided by atmospheric lighting whose yellowish tone recalls Darius Khondji’s work on Seven but probably on a fraction of its budget. And without the usual ghostly apparitions, the appearance of Bus’s daughter, Bua (Jiratchaya Jirarajagit), is unsettling and even puzzling - is she real? Is she a hallucination? Or is she a ghost?

But the meat and heart of the movie lies in realistic effects. Meat Grinder is bloody, and after sitting through Koji Shiraishi’s Grotesque, all that dicing and slashing might be par for the course but the scene of nails hammering into a man’s fingers and especially when he tries to extract his fingers from the nails that puts Meat Grinder into the torture porn category. And the scene of Nida in the tank with floating heads and limbs - that certainly ups the yuk factor.

If the Thailand depicted in Meat Grinder is subjected to riots, a reflection to what happens in real life, it also underlines the fact that it is also a place where people can go missing and no one will be the wiser. Add to that a history of familial abuse (Buss’s mother, after catching her husband molest a young Buss, hammers his hand on a chopping board) and you might have a powder keg on your hands. Given what’s been shown, director Thiwa Meyathaisong’s didactic message at the end of the film is both unnecessary and detracts somewhat the poignancy of the film. As with all forms of violence, it is the bloodletting that will stay with you… always.

Note: The Meat Grinder DVD is banned in $ingapore.

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  2. I Like this.

    By Saw on Apr 5, 2010

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