With a title like SARS Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis, how can you possibly go wrong? Imagine, if you can, a Thai spoof of action/horror films in the same vein as Scary Movie and you’ve sort of got the template for this nutty bit of genre-splicing and shotgun-spray parody, garnished liberally with cartoon sound effects. In the first ten minutes alone I ticked off potshots at Blade, Kill Bill, 28 Days Later, Shaun / Dawn of the Dead, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon — oh, and there’s an animated credit sequence that plays like a genre spoof unto itself. Why pay for only one parody when you can get ten of them wholesale?
SW:BZC played to sold-out audiences at various film festivals last year, including Otakon 2005 (where it apparently was so popular they slotted in a second screening of it to accommodate an overflow audience). It’s easy to see why: it’s dumb, obvious, crass, juvenile, politically incorrect (how about a plot thread about a guy losing his virginity to a transsexual?) and very funny — a guaranteed crowd-pleaser even for audiences who’ve never seen a Thai movie before. Not that SW:BZC has much to do with the rest of the Thai filmmaking scene out there right now (at least, not at first glance), but it’s not as if it needs to be. Too bad so many moviegoers seem to have an automatic aversion to subtitles, since SW:BZC is at least as funny as any of the English-language so-called comedies they’ve paid to see in theaters.
SARS Wars may be crude and stupid and obnoxious, but it redeems itself
mostly by the fact that it's very funny the vast majority of the time.
So, there’s a story. It involves a horrible new mutation of the SARS virus that has emerged from Africa and is now gestating in SARS-free Thailand; the movie helpfully supplies us with an animated travelogue for the cockroach that winds up being the disease’s primary vector. It bites a Western journalist (Andrew Biggs) on the neck, and within hours he’s mutated into one of the walking undead, tearing the flesh and drinking the blood of anyone who strays into his path. Before long, the virus has spread to infect a whole apartment complex (shades of Lamberto Bava’s Demons 2 and, even before that, David Cronenberg’s They Came From Within), and soon the place is a festering hive of zombie-dom that needs to be locked down.
While all this is going on, there’s a dorky intersecting plot that collides with the zombie half of things: A cute teenager (Phintusuda Tunphairao) is abducted by a gang of gun-wielding thugs dressed in idiotic costumes and held for ransom. Dad enlists the help of Master Thep (Suthep Po-ngam, of Killer Tattoo), a crotchety old has-been with a gimpy leg. He’s not up to the job, so he sends in his student, the handsome if wholly witless Khun Krabii (Supakorn Kitsuwon, of Suriyothai, Monrak Transistor and Tears of the Black Tiger) to bring the girl back. No prizes for guessing where the girl’s being held, or what kind of mayhem ensues, and it isn’t long before Master Thep has to dive in himself to get everyone out of trouble.
From Kill Bill to Blade to who knows what, the film gobbles up other genres with both hands
and spits out something that's not quite any of the above, but still amusing.
There’s more, amazingly — mostly some nonsense involving the public-health officials assigned to “contain” the disease. The sexy Dr. Diana (Lene Christensen) wants to use the place as a testing ground for her new experimental vaccines (conveniently lettered “A” through “Z”), but her boss would rather just have her use the “Stop Virus Bullet” — which stops not only the virus but the person succumbing to it. Diana and Thep are romantically entangled, as are Khun and the teenybopper, and the movie gleefully milks this stuff for some of the crassest humor this side of the Austin Powers movies. At one point when Thep has been shot with the Stop Virus Bullet, Diana needs to keep his heart rate up so he doesn’t drop dead; she performs a lapdance complete with flashing disco lights and booming techno music — and then has ugly, fiftyish Thep respond in kind, prancing around in Joe Boxer underwear.
Somehow in the middle of all this, I kept wondering if there was a subtext. What does it mean, for instance, to have the one person who starts the whole mess be a foreigner (and to have a number of explicit references to this fact in the film itself, especially if they’re punchlines)? The part of me that tries to find deeper meanings in all things connected that back up in a distant way to Thailand’s ongoing problems with foreigners, sex tourism and STDs. And yet another part of me watched the scene where the zombie baby tears its way out of its mother’s chest and bites through its own umbilical cord, and murmured, “Didn’t we see that in Peter Jackson’s Dead/Alive?”