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A Krasue Soap Opera

My interest in Asian floating head movies is well known.  Well, here’s something else: a floating head soap opera! 

About Lakorns
    
Actually, the program I’ll be discussing is a lakorn, a form unique to Thailand.  Lakorns are broadcast during primetime, last around two hours and run for a few months.  Unlike American soaps, lakorns don’t continue indefinitely; they always have a definite finish in which all loose ends are tied up and everyone lives happily ever after.

CHAO EUY YEAY ARB
     I’m going to partially synopsize a lakorn from 1994 called CHAO EUY YEAY ARB.  From what I understand it’s a fairly traditional example of the form in some respects (it’s excessively melodramatic and features lots of sappy romance) but quite nontraditional in others (the setting is an impoverished village, as opposed to the upper class milieus of most lakorns).  It stars Satawat Dulyavichit and Rajeneekorn Pantmanee.  No, I haven’t heard of those people either, but my interest is due strictly to the fact that this lakorn is a spooker involving Arbs--or Krasues, as they’re known in Thailand. 

Floating Head Critters--A Quick Refresher
     The Arb/Krasue/Leak/Penanggalon is a woman (never a man) whose head and innards, according to South Asian mythology, leave her body each night to go a’ floating.  The actions and properties of this creature vary from culture to culture; in some countries it’s said to attack people and drink their blood.  The critters of CHAO EUY YEAY ARB are closest to the Cambodian interpretation, which stipulates that Arbs (as they’re identified therein) are largely nonviolent beings that can only harm people who’ve done them or their families wrong.    

General Observations about CHAO EUY YEAY ARB
    
The photography is of the cheesy high def variety (apparently par the course); there’s no sex, nudity or excess gore, as Thai censors are notoriously strict in regulating those things; the whole program was evidently shot on location in actual Thai swampland (if there were any studio sets I didn’t notice them); the music is noisy and melodramatic (and often filched from other sources--I noticed several lifts from the JACOB’S LADDER soundtrack), with an irritating tendency to cut off suddenly in the middle of scenes; the acting is histrionic to an absurd degree; and the special effects are...well, surprisingly not all that bad.

One More Thing
     I only caught the first five hours of this lakorn.  It was uploaded onto Youtube from a DVD set containing (as the uploader “ladyaunt” claims) 5 or 6 discs with a running time of 5 hours apiece!  I had a difficult enough time slogging through five hours of this thing--I simply cannot imagine enduring another thirty!
 

     So here’s my admittedly long-winded synopsis of the first five hours of CHAO EUY YEAY ARB.  Keep in mind the program was unsubtitled, so I likely misunderstood a lot.

The Set-Up
     In an impoverished fishing village during some past era a Krasue (this being a Thai production, I’ll use the Thai word for the creature) is loose.  It’s a gray haired old woman whose head floats around each night with its innards attached--a green glow emanates from those innards, which lights the krasue’s way.  As CHAO EUY YEAY ARB begins several villagers are out with torches searching for the krasue.  Their search is a bust, however, as the krasue manages to elude them.   

The Cast
     Among the inhabitants of this village are a young mother dealing with an abusive husband, the woman’s elderly mother, a devoutly religious woman, a thief, and of course the ancient krasue lady, who during the day fondles an apparently magic amulet.  

The Two Old Ladies
    
The elderly mother is in trouble with her fellow villagers for some reason.  They harass her to the point that she tries to hang herself.  The other old woman intervenes, however, and the two chat--but it gradually downs on the mother that the seemingly kindly old goat is in fact...the krasue!  Yet this doesn’t stop the woman from taking a (magic?) ring from the crone.  It would seem she’s somehow inherited the krasue curse.

A Freaky Encounter
     Night: a young woman wakes up scared.  She gets her husband to venture outside with a flashlight and machete.  He runs directly into the krasue, which happens to be in a particularly dire mood, flicking its tongue lasciviously.  The guy scares it off by swinging the machete, and the next morning finds a piece of intestine stuck to the blade. 

Huh?
     That day the old woman chats with the krasue crone.  The latter leads the old woman to a small chest buried near her hut, filled with what look like bones(?).  These are apparently of some import, as the woman goes to great lengths to hide the chest and its contents from her fellow villagers. 

A Passing of the Torch
     At some point in this sequence of events the krasue woman dies--and apparently passes on her curse to the old lady, who that night becomes a krasue in a graphically depicted transformation sequence, with her head and innards sliding out of her body as it lays prone.  This krasue, however, has a white glow in its center, as opposed to former krasue’s green one (important?  Who knows??). 

Yum!
     This new krasue wastes no time.  That very night it performs one of the more notorious acts of krasue lore, lapping up the afterbirth of a woman that has been left outside her hut in a jug.  The poor gal, who’s just suffered a miscarriage, spots the bloody-lipped krasue through her window and dies of fright. 

The Old Lady Withdraws/A REALLY vile sight
     The old woman becomes increasingly withdrawn, and takes to wearing dark glasses everywhere she goes.  This is a good idea, as in her krasue guise she confronts several villagers who clearly see her face.  I should add that around this point occurs the most disgusting scene by far: a man picks his nose with the end of a pipe and then puts it in his mouth! 

The Religious Woman
     Here we get some background on the religious gal, who spends her days (and nights) meditating at a Buddhist shrine with her equally devout mother.  A flashback shows that as a child the woman drank some contaminated water and nearly died.  I guess this helped steer her to a life of piety. 

The Village Brats
     Speaking of children, the kids of this village are quite a rambunctious bunch, particularly a mean boy who’s always disrupting the other kids’ games.  One strange thing about these twerps: all their voices sound like they were dubbed (badly) by adults! 

Further Krasue High Jinks and Some Banana Fu
     To continue with the story at hand, the krasue persists in making trouble each night, knocking a guy over at one point.  During the day stupidity ensues, with a creep coming on to a young woman and then getting into a goofy fight with her boyfriend--kickboxing and banana throwing ensue, until the chick beats the lech off with a stick.  

More of the Same
     From there we get lots and lots of miscellaneous chatter I didn’t understand (are all lakorns this slow and talky???).  There’s more krasue action, of course, including a semi-comedic bit in which an apparently dead girl is roused to life when the critter floats by her. 

The Krasue Does a Good Deed
     A kidnapping livens things up somewhat.  A bunch of skuzzy guys waylay the krasue woman’s daughter, enclosing her in a burlap sack and hauling her off to their hut.  The act is witnessed by a friend who tells the old woman.  That night, in her krasue guise, she alerts the torch-wielding villagers, who are moved to take time out from krasue hunting to rescue the kidnapped gal. 

A Third Krasue?
     Another intriguing development occurs around this time.  It seems there’s another krasue afoot, this one a frizzy haired coot whose presence is initially made manifest by an eerie wailing that awakens her daughter.  The latter lives below her mother in a two-story hut, and ventures outside to see what’s going on.  She spots her mother in krasue form and runs off. 

The New Krasue’s Exploits
     This frizzy haired krasue--whose transformation is witnessed by the religious woman, who literally appears out of thin air to view the action--is far more aggressive than the others.  It likes to scare people by entering their huts, and also taunts the villagers in the town square, but in doing so the monster gets its innards caught in tree branches and is nearly caught.  It manages to escape at the last minute, however. 

The End?
     It’s around this point that the first five hours of this lakorn came to a merciful end.  Several plot strands doubtless continued over the remaining thirty hours, such as the religious woman’s relationship with the frizzy-haired krasue, the possible significance of that bone-filled chest, and several miscellaneous romances that I didn’t go into (be thankful!).  There’s also the fact that the opening logo pictures a young woman turning into a krasue, whereas the three krasues featured thus far were old bags. 
 

     How precisely do I feel about what I’ve seen of CHAO EUY YEAY ARB?  It has its moments, but overall I was unimpressed.  It may just be me, but it seemed that during the krasue’s final act of aggression (which occurs very near the five hour mark) its would-be victims--three nubile young women--looked more annoyed than scared.  I’ll have to admit I felt exactly the same way.  Should you find yourself feeling regretful that I only caught the first part of this apparently neverending lakorn, rest assured that I’ve had more than my fill!

 

--3/29/09
 


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