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At the Gate of the Ghost(2011)
In this Thai adaptation of the Japanese film Rashomon, a young monk considers the nature of truth and meaning after hearing four dramatically different accounts of a nobleman's murder.
For more about At the Gate of the Ghost and the At the Gate of the Ghost Blu-ray release, see At the Gate of the Ghost Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on April 16, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Ananda Everingham, Laila Boonyasak, Dom Hetrakul, Mario Maurer
» See full cast & crew
At the Gate of the Ghost Blu-ray Review
Like most remakes, competent but unnecessary.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, April 16, 2013
At the Gate of the Ghost isn't the first time Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon has been remade, and it probably won't be the last. Kurosawa's 1950 mystery drama—based on the short story "In a Grove," by Ryunosuke Akutagawa—not only introduced Japanese cinema to the West, but also has come to define the trope where several unreliable narrators each recount an incident from their own skewed, self-motivated perspectives, casting the objective truth into question. Akutagawa and Kurosawa might not have invented this particular type of tale, but Rashomon is arguably the purest example of it, so much so that "Rashomon-style" is now the go-to adjective to describe any story with this narrative structure, from Courage Under Fire to—one of my personal favorite's—the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode, "Who Got Dee Pregnant?" After the 1964 western, The Outrage, At the Gate of the Ghost is the second direct remake of Rashomon, borrowing its plot and characters with few alterations. The changes here are only cosmetic, with director M.L. Pundhevanop Dhewakul tailoring the story for audiences in his native Thailand. The result is competent in a by-the-numbers way, but the film lacks the visionary artistry of the original.
An over-long and overly complicated prologue introduces us to Arnont (Mario Maurer), a young Buddhist monk in 16th century Thailand who's undergoing a crises of faith in the dharma principles he piously teaches. Losing hope in humanity after witnessing the execution of the renowned forest bandit, Singh Kham (Dom Heatrakul)—who was decapitated for a crime he might not have actually committed—Arnont threatens to give up his saffron robes, unable to understand the actions of the witnesses at the trial. During a heavy rain storm, he takes shelter in a crumbling tunnel with one of these witnesses, an uneducated woodcutter (Petchtai Wongkamlao), as well as a kooky old undertaker (Pongpat Wachirabunjong) who—eager to hear the full story—goads the two into conversation about the events of the previous day.
The facts of the case are spartan: 1.) The woodcutter found the wealthy warlord Larh-Fah (Ananda Everingham) stabbed to death in the forest, 2.) the warrior's silver-handled sword is missing, and 3.) Singh Kham had some kind of sexual congress with Larh-Fah's wife, Lady Kham-Kaew (Chermarn Boonyasak). Was it rape or consensual? Did the bandit kill the warlord, or might it have been his wife? Where is that expensive sword? These were the days long before forensic evidence, so the outcome of the trial is determined strictly by witness testimony, which basically comes down to who has the most plausible story.
The thing is, all of the stories are plausible, even though they're drastically different when it comes to the details and motivations. As Armont recounts each witness' own version of the crime, we flash back and see the events from the perspectives of the belligerent, self-aggrandizing Singh Kham, the sorrowful Lady Kham-Kaew, and even the dead Larh-Fah, who speaks from beyond the grave by way of a genuinely terrifying medium with a white-painted face and 5-inch-long artificial fingernails. Each testimony is inherently selfish, the witnesses seemingly less concerned with accuracy than with assuring that they themselves will be perceived how they'd like to be perceived. The bandit is willing to risk the death penalty to further his legend. The lady appeals to our pity. The warlord plays the cuckholded husband card. And then there's the woodcutter, who lies at the trial but later tells Armont and the undertaker his own less biased account, which—even then—is laced with half-truths.
At the Gate of the Ghost is as straightforward as a remake can be, so if you're familiar with Rashomon, this re-adaptation will offer no surprises or significant divergences. The only minor addition is the inclusion of a sort of instructional Buddhist message about ridding the self of the self and living a noble life. Otherwise, the names have changed and the setting has shifted, but the story remains the same. If superfluous and uninspired, the film is at least lavish, with the ornate costumes and general pageantry we've come to expect from Thai historical epics. Just don't expect non-stop martial arts, as the cover design would lead you to believe. There are a few bow-and-arrow takedowns and two sword fights—the latter of which is intentionally clumsy—but no sustained action. Like the original, this is a relatively quiet drama, predicated more on mystery than the violence of the murder. The acting is mixed. The three "participants" in the crime are good—the handsome Ananda Everingham seems like the Thai equivalent of Orlando Bloom, Chermarn Boonyasak is gorgeous and talented, and Dom Heatrakul is alternately despicable and pitiable as the bandit—but the undertaker goes way over the top, and conversely, Mario Maurer's monk is almost too serene, with none of his inner turmoil coming through. But then again, you might see it differently; it's all subjective, isn't it?
At the Gate of the Ghost Blu-ray, Video Quality
I doubt we'll hear many conflicting opinions of the film's 1080p/AVC-encoded Blu-ray presentation, which—barring a few small nitpicks—is mostly satisfyingly. Quibbles out of the way first: I spotted some light banding in the sky during one scene, some strange patchy pixilation an another, a few noticeably soft shots, and then two or three early scenes where faces have been given a smoothed-over glow that's more distracting than flattering. And that's about it. At the Gate of the Ghost may not be a big budget film by Hollywood standards, but it looks every bit as good as blockbuster Thai films like Ong Bak 2 or Kingdom of War. Shot digitally, the film has a very clean look—noise only intensifies during darker scenes—with a commendable level of clarity. Fine detail is sharp throughout, and particularly visible in the actors' faces and clothing. Speaking of, the costumes also show off the image's intense but not oversaturated color, from the monk's saffron robes to the warlord's impressively multihued getup. Black levels sit where they should, and the overall contrast has a nice sense of punchiness. Besides some light compression artifacts, there are no real issues here.
At the Gate of the Ghost Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Magnolia has given us two audio options here, a Thai track and an English dub—both in the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 codec—but you'll want to avoid the goofy-sounding dub if at all possible. Aside from the language differences, both mixes seem identical, making strong use of the surround channels to generate an immersive ambient environment in just about every scene. A storm causes thunder to rip through the rear speakers and rain to pour all around. The acoustics sound accurate in the stone tunnel. Insect noise and animal sounds and the rush of a waterfall fill the air. There are a few decent directional and cross-channel effects as well, like the undertaker's off-stage cackling or the zippy twhap of arrows fired through the soundfield. Shutter composer Chatchai Pongprapaphan contributes a score that emphasizes but doesn't overpower the tone of each scene, and —like the rest of the audio—the music is full and clear and free from crackles, hisses, drop-out, or any other issues. Dialogue is always clean and easy to pick out of the mix. The disc includes English, English Narrative, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles.
At the Gate of the Ghost Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
At the Gate of the Ghost Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Did we need a Thai remake of Rashomon? No, not really. The film isn't bad, though. It retells the story of the original—or, the four stories, rather—in a straightforward, competent way, and while director M.L. Pundhevanop Dhewakul has nothing on Akira Kurosawa, he does stage a few memorable sequences, particularly the creepy scene with the medium channeling the dead warlord. Magnolia's Blu-ray release is all-around solid—a strong picture, immersive audio, and a few value-adding extras—so if you're into Thai cinema it might be worth checking out with tempered expectations.
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At the Gate of the Ghost Blu-ray, News and Updates
• At the Gate of the Ghost Blu-ray - March 22, 2013
Magnolia Pictures has officially announced that it will release on Blu-ray M.L. Pundhevanop Dhewakul's The Outrage a.k.a At the Gate of the Ghost (2011). The release will be available for purchase online and in stores across the nation on April 16th.
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