Just plain queasy
11/10/07 (By: KONG RITHDEE)

Suay Lak Sai (Sick Nurses),
New Thai exploitation flick is high on trash but low on merit

There's no way round it: Sick Nurses is pretty sick. A trashy exploitation flick that seems to take pride in its gross exhibition of nausea, gore and vomit, this new Thai horror steals the formula of American and Korean slasher movies, minus their skills and humour, and devises a gamut of "creative murders" that sees off its collection of female characters. The directorial duo, both male, have uninhibited fun showing us the grisly slaughter of seven dumb, sexy women (nurses who dress and behave like hookers) as if it's their own revenge fantasy against pretty human beings. But no, this is not simply an anti-female movie, because the film's evil-in-chief is - guess what - gay.
Before we get to that, let me say that there's nothing wrong with trashy exploitation flicks per se; they belong to a branch of filmmaking whose raw energy screwdrives our brains and forces us to feel the core of cinema's visceral power. The origin of exploitation movies as underground products also lends them anti-establishment undertones, a horrid scream against puritanism and social hypocrisy where disgusting truth is hidden rather than shown. Of course, Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Andrzej Zulawski's Possession (with Isabelle Adjani giving birth to a sticky demon in a subway, urgh) are supremely sick, but those films also haunt us into feeling something much deeper, like fear. 

But when exploitation films are cosmeticised into fancy merchandise, when they're being distributed to 300 screens instead of the exclusive or obscure few, when they're being advertised as if they're family films (especially here, where there's no rating system), their queasiness is no longer transgressive but just plain queasy, boxed and proudly presented. It's cool to embrace trash, but please, there's got to be a line somewhere. 

Sick Nurses wears its misanthropy on its sleeve, but its idiocy throws not an inkling of political challenge at the rampant rise of conservatism in this country. Set in the surreal confines of a deserted hospital the movie parades seven nurses with sweaty cleavages and dramatic uniforms, resembling a bad Playboy photo spread. The nurses' level of medical professionalism is appallingly non-existent as they team up with a young doctor, with a hidden homosexual past to boot, to sell dead bodies to buyers. 

The film opens with one of the nurses being brutally murdered by her peers after a jealousy-fuelled ruckus in a morgue. Seven days later, her vengeful spirit, in the form of a tanned siren with bleached hair (Hell is blazing, I'm sure), comes back for revenge by stalking and killing those sick nurses one by one. Each death of the remaining nurses is specially designed to reflect her feminine obsession; thus the nurse who's addicted to an expensive handbag has her head sewn up inside the bag itself and the one with a shampoo mania has her hair possessed by the devil. But the sickest carnage is administered by the ghost to a tarty nurse with an eating disorder whose death involves an obscenely bloody trick with her gob. That scene alone should qualify the film for an X rating.
The malicious killings of pretty females are devoid of irony, and instead shockingly full of anger and satisfaction. That the nurses' narcissistic obsessions become the means to their own demise doesn't come across as Gothic humour or wicked satire, but as a kind of fascist let's-teach-these-women-some-lessons exercise. Perhaps anticipating that accusation, the filmmakers deflect the source of evil to a man, the gay doctor, but the result is even more disastrous. 

I believe it's perfectly all right to make villains out of gays, Arabs, Americans, or even Martians, but to force them into the tired old pattern of prejudice and stereotype is nothing short of insensitivity, and maybe foolishness. It doesn't give me any pleasure writing negatively about Thai movies, but I'm saying this in all sincerity that this is not the way forward for Thai cinema. 

What also eludes me is why the Medical Council, whose representatives came out valiantly to demand that the scenes showing doctors drinking whisky and doctors kissing be cut from the film Saeng Satawat, remain silent about the grotesque portrayals of the medical profession here (Saeng Satawat was planned to be released on just one screen; Sick Nurses has been widely release). If images of doctors drinking liquor put the profession in a bad light and undermine patients' respect, what would patients think seeing a doctor killing, selling corpses and seducing nurses, as happens here? What's more saddening than seeing bad exploitation movies is the double standards of the people who have power. Unfortunately we have both of them right here in Thailand. 

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