Friday, March 27

Review: Meat Grinder (Thailand, 2009)

Meat Grinder
Directed by Tiwa Moeithaisong
Starring Mai Charoenpura (Suriyothai), Rattanaballang Tohsawat (Bangkok Love Story)

A movie about slicing and dicing is sliced and diced by the Thai censors, how's that for parallelism?

Whether Tiwa Moeithaisong intended it to be or not, Meat Grinder has become a crash test dummy for the new Thailand motion picture ratings and can't be helped but seen as an allegory to the viewing experience: As the landlord and his thugs slurp down Bus' noodles and devour the bits and pieces of human meatballs, I am also served a severely and clumsily hacked movie, which refrained me from digesting the narrative as a coherent whole. (I was also out of my comfort zone, watching a movie for the first time in Bangkok in the plush Siam Paragon multiplex on a chair that stubbornly pulled back at what should be a relaxing angle but only made me feel like I was about to fall backwards every time my cringe reflexes were, err, cringing away.)

Meat Grinder is about a lot of things---violence begets violence, the tumultous Thai communist uprisings which I hoped the movie pursued more to add more dimension to the period's climate, violence as escape (and lucrative business) for the women in this movie---but these all feel incidental to the main attraction, the deliciously graphic hunting and gathering of human meat and the calculated food preparation.

Mai Charoenpura as Bus goes about her killing spree with stoic determination that it becomes more chilling. And cool. She even out-classes Uma Thurman's The Bride (Kill Bill) when Bus kitchen kung-fus her three abusers with knives and cleavers or whatever she could grab in her dank kitchen, whacking heads like they were yielding watermelons, driving hooks through screaming mouths, slicing arms casually as if she were about to serve Christmas ham. Admittedly, even for someone like me who has a taste for gore fests, I had to look away when she drove a nail down in all ten fingertips of one of her victims. Shot up close, the rusty nail pierced and cracked the quivering fingernail painfully slow, which is reminiscent of Choi Min-Sik's dentistry work with a hammer in Park Chan Wook's Old Boy and the gradual torture in Takashi Miike's Ôdishon.

Unfortunately, Meat Grinder's narrative is as choppy as its violence. The Thai censors is partially to blame but Moeithaisong is also at fault, resorting occasionally to execution over substance. There are just too many styles employed---from scratchy old-film wash-out colors to black and white to quick cut-to-cuts---resulting to a disjointed storytelling and a tone that is impossible to define, which is my biggest issue with the movie.

Outside the political context of censorship, Meat Grinder, as a movie, is without depth. There are signs that the director struggled to inject it with meaning but the cycle of violence as an emotional center or theme is a beaten-up, predictable purpose. Soylent Green existed in an apocalyptic what-if context; The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Titus made cannibalism the ultimate penance. In Meat Grinder, we never feel the weight of commiting the act. Was Bus supposed to be excused because she was mad? Was Bus' lover not even mortified or even the slightest bit morally shaken after seeing the slaughterhouse?

In this respect, Meat Grinder is torture porn. Frustratingly so because it could have been so much more. There's not much to chew on really.


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