Tuesday, July 13, 2010

AAIFF ’10: Slice

It is not called Slice for nothing. In fact, Kongkiat Khomsiri’s serial killer thriller is everything you suspect and then some. You will never look at red luggage the same way if you catch Khomsiri’s dark, psychologically complex film during this year’s Asian American International Film Festival.

A thoroughly corrupt cop, Papa Chin will be conveniently scapegoated if he cannot clear a particularly gruesome string of killings. Coincidently, aspects of the case suggest a connection to Tai, his former subordinate currently cooling his heels in prison as part of Chin’s nefarious machinations. Out of desperation, Chin reactivates Tai, so he can return to his hometown to follow up on his leads. Unfortunately, all signs point to Nut, an effeminate boy young Tai either befriended or bullied, depending on whether any other kids were present.

What follows is something of a cross between Stand By Me and The Silence of the Lambs as Tai plumbs his increasingly disturbing childhood memories. However, with the clock ticking and the surfer dude-looking Papa Chin using Tai’s wife as extra added motivation, the psychologically damaged Nut has apparently disappeared from the face of the Earth.

Slice is one twisted vision of humanity with a real “oh snap” ending. Not for the faint of heart, its violent sequences border on the baroque, as the mysterious killer (resembling Salieri in a red cape and mask) slashes and swirls through masses of victims. It does not shy away from taboo subject matter either, making it all too clear the ways Nut was repeatedly abused and what the long term effects of it were.

Like Vietnamese action star Johnny Tri Nguyen, Arak Amornsupasiri is bit inexpressive, but still projects a certain degree of screen presence as the protagonist Tai. Often upstaging him, Chatchai Plengpanich is indeed a great scenery-chewing screen villain as Papa Chin. However, Jessica Pasaphan’s legitimately brave performance as Noi truly defines the film’s soul.

Tightly edited by Sunij Asavinkul, Slice holds together in retrospect, even after dropping its surprise existential crisis. Though violent and unsettling, it is a stylish thriller that should generate heated viewer reaction. Thai cinema might not get much market penetration in America, but Slice’s contempt for playing it safe deserves a cult following. It screens this Friday (7/16) as part of the 2010 AAIFF at the Chelsea Clearview.