June 01, 2009

4bia (2008) - patchy Thai horror anthology

(2008, Thailand, See Prang)

I'm quite reluctant to write this review. I want to encourage Thai movies internationally, especially since the country is so keen on the supernatural genre. But I'm duty bound to write an honest review, to compensate for the growing hype, from both the east and the west. 4bia may have been successful in Thailand, with a sequel in the works already, but most of the good reviews seem to be saying 'this is very good... for a Thai movie'. Yes, 4bia has elements that are rare in Thai cinema - car stunts and CGI characters, for instance. While this might be impressive in Thailand, I don't honestly think it'll be at all satisfying for regular horror fans. 4bia only has one story out of four that I can recommend.

It's made up of four short horror stories, all by different Thai directors. While the title is a twist on phobia, the common thread is ghosts, as is usual with Thai horror.

The first segment is called Loneliness (though the onscreen title on the Malay DVD was Happiness). I was disappointed that the story centred on a mobile phone, now a ragged Asian horror cliche. The pace also started quite slowly, as a young woman with her leg in a cast starts getting text messages from a mysterious admirer. Just as I was getting restless, the tale started to get successfully creepy. This was interesting considering the director's previous films included The Iron Ladies films, basically feelgood comedies. But the carefully built atmosphere was shattered by a clumsy shock moment from a shoddy video effect and a confusing sting in the tale.

Second up was Tit For Tat, an example of the more gruesome wave of Thai horror that aspires to ladle out bloody shock effects. A schoolboy is victimised by a nasty gang of bullies and takes revenge using black magic. But this is presented with fast-cutting, shaky camerawork, pumped-up colours and a barrage of computer-generated effects, some successful (a whirlwind of paper) and some definitely not (CGI characters). The uneven special effects distracted me from the already flimsy story.

Best of the lot is the third story, In The Middle. Directed with a sure hand, from a director of Alone and the superb Shutter, Banjong Pisanthanakun. This is well-paced, well-acted and largely original. Four boys are on a camping trip in the forest, scaring each other with ghost stories in the tent at night and teasing each other about which horror films they've seen, (cue some smart in-jokes). But next day they have a Deliverance-style accident and the trip turns into a nightmare. This was easily the best - well made, scary and didn't insult horror fans.

Lastly is Last Fright where a stewardess attends to royalty on a specially chartered flight. But the princess starts ill-treating the attendant and everything escalates rather alarmingly. In the story's mission to scare, logic goes completely out the window in order to create any scares. Like part two, the director cheats the viewer every whichway, in order to get the shocks. The premise of royalty of any country (in this case a fictitious one) hiring a huge passenger jet all for one person is far-fetched to begin with. An appalling CGI plane sabotaged the segment, while the interior set was just about convincing.

So, a mixed bag, above average horror for Thailand, just about good enough as a TV film, OK for DVD. It's an accurate overview of Thai approaches to horror, with some over-familiar subjects. I'd like to see the directors of Dorm and Victim invited to the next batch.

The Malay DVD from Golden Satellite (pictured at top) is non-anamorphic widescreen. The English subtitles were well-translated but non-removable. Any curse words were censored with a silly black blob over the offending words. This could indicate that the gore had also been cut down for Malaysia. Maybe the promised UK DVD release later this year will have more gore (in the second story?).

As I'm still feeling guilty, in the name of balance here's the gushy review that inspired me to write this, and a far more balanced and informative review from Wise Kwai.


  1. The T-shirts worn by the guys from In the Middle crack me up. It's that one and Happiness -- that is the English title though the Thai title is Ngao (Loneliness) -- that are my favorites.

    And part of your wish has been granted: Dorm director Songyos Sugmakanan is on board for Phobia 2, which is supposed to have five segments, directed by the directors of 4bia, plus Songyos, minus Yongyoot and plus one more "mystery" director yet to be named. It's due for release in Thailand on September 9, 2009.

  2. Great news! I'd love to see more of his work!

  3. Great blog you got here. But I recently bought a DVD for the Songyos Sugmakanan movie "Hormones" (I really like the other movies he has directed, or partly directed, hopefully I will get to see "Phobia 2" in time too), also released by Golden Screen Cinemas. The DVD was advertised as NTSC initially, but when I received the DVD, it was actually PAL format.

    Can you tell me what video format the Golden Screen Cinemas "4bia" is? NTSC or PAL? Thanks in advance.

  4. The Hong Kong disc, distributed by Panasia from sales agent Kam & Ronson, is Region 3 and NTSC encoded. That's what it says on the box, and computer analysis of the disc seems to back up that claim.

  5. Noticed you haven't posted about it yet. "Phobia 2" has recently been released on DVD with English subtitles. Though, no version of it is Region 3, just a warning.

    Malaysian version sold at Sensasian.com
    Hong Kong version sold at Yesasia.com
    Singapore version sold at MovieXclusive

    Personally, I bought the Singapore release, so that's the only one that I can speak of. The subtitles are unfortunately burned onto the image, and the chapter select is not divided by individual short films.

  6. Ket, thank you for the links - are the subs on your DVD good translations, correctly-timed and all?

  7. As far as I can tell, they're good. They're just kind of small since they're directly on the image of the movie.

  8. I just looked back at my other reply and I was made a mistake. I meant to say all versions of "no version of it is region FREE", all of them so far are Region 3.

  9. Just got my Hong Kong disc. It has Thai and Chinese soundtracks and removable Thai, Chinese and English subtitles, clear and easily readable.

    Extras consist of behind-the-scenes footage for Novice, In the End, Backpackers and Salvage (misspelled as "savage"). These consist of B-rolls and special-effects rough cuts with no narration. There is also the trailer.

    Box says it is NTSC, Region 3, but I was unable to check that for sure.

  10. I think Phobia 1 is scarier and better than Phobia 2.Here is my take

    Phobia 1
    1. great casts and good acting
    2. more original than Phobia 2

    Phobia 2
    1. The 5th story was well-done but could have been a movie of its own.
    2. The 4th story (salvaging car business) is the strongest among the 5 stories