The Brutal River (Review)
The Brutal River
Hey, America is not the only country that can produce SciFi Channel films where a giant CGI animal kills people; Thailand can create them as well! Even though it probably has no chance of ever appearing on the SciFi Channel, Brutal River is in spirit similar to the many dozens of films that premiere to the world on that network. Sure, the opening scrawl claims it’s based on a true story, but CGI carnage is the same in every language. A few problems, the pacing is way off, and the movie has habits of dragging, making it seem like it’s much longer than it is, while SciFi Channel flicks usually try to show the monster every 10-15 minutes or so for fresh kills. Oddly enough, other parts of the movie are pulled off quite well, as the film jumps back into quality B-movie territory. Thai film has received a boost recently due to the works of Tony Jaa becoming popular, the quality film Beautiful Boxer, and works of director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. Thai horror has also started to creep around into the public conscious thanks to the general Asian horror leakage. Thus, Brutal River is born! The best selling point of The Brutal River is one of the neat poster one-sheets, which is included with the rest of the screencaps here. I don’t want to say that Brutal River is a terrible film, but it’s just infected with its plot slowdowns ruining the pacing of the film worse than a rogue crocodile would ruin the local canal of a Thai village. That makes it a terrible film, even if you can get enjoyment from it.
Though I’ve watched several Thai films (okay, 2 Thai films), I am still a novice in identifying the actors and local nuances that define Thai cinema and culture. Chartchai Ngamsan (who plays Nong) seems to be the local heartthrob to bring out the ladies. He’s probably best known over here for the cultish Tears of the Black Tiger. Chirapat Wongpaisanlux (or Jirapat Wongpaisarn as she went by in this film) playing Pikulwould be one of our hot women, as well as Lukana Lisani (playing Ked) as the other hot girl. Following traditional Asian fame, many of these people probably have singing careers in addition to their acting careers. It would be nice to know any of that, but English information on any of them is scanty, and Google translations are far more miss than hit. We’ll just make up some facts to fill out the rest of the paragraph. Chartchai Ngamsan owns a riverboat casino and spends most of his non-acting time singing lounge acts onboard. He is the best Robert Goulet impersonator in Asia. Chirapat Wongpaisanlux spends most of her spare time spelling her name in various different ways so she’ll never be credited under the same spelling twice. This compulsion is due to her being trapped alone in an empty closet as a child with only a Scrabble board game for company.
The film opens at the Bang Mud Canal, in Chumporn Province (Or Chumphon Province) in the year 2507. Over 500 years from now, Thailand will still be menaced by killer alligators, complete with futuristic death rays, robotic skin, and jet packs. Oh, wait, Thailand has its own calendar, and it’s actually only 1964! Darn, I wanted some flying cars. For those of you who are curious, it’s because Lord Buddha’s birth 543 before Jesus Christ. Anyway, ever notice how often Thai names have “porn” in it? That must really set off the red flags for internet monitors at certain companies when the Thai employees log on. Of course, this is the country with cities named Bangkok and Phuket, so whatever is going on is just a bunch of weird. Maybe they are all Cyber Seduced. The movie starts out on a normal day in 2507 Thailand as local police officer Narln gives Ked a ride to work on his motorcycle. Hey, they’re in love, good for them, they earn a gold star….of love! Meanwhile, dangerous danger stalks a boat arriving to the local village, as the village chief tells the new police commissioner about how nice and peaceful the town is. This is the beginning of the clues that this might actually be based on a true story, as this commissioner character is entirely superfluous to the events and could have been eliminated with probably an improvement on pacing. American films would have wiped him out entirely, leaving motorcycle cop Narln as the lone police deputy to the small town under a retiring sheriff who gets eaten before the first commercial break. SciFi Channel should be paying me! The dangerous danger continues to stalk, with lots of point of view (POV) shots to show something is watching them, as well as creepy music. Nothing actually happens, but it’s supposed to set the mood. The mood is: “Boring!” Come on, kick up the pace a notch or two! We need DEATH! Eat someone during the opening credits, you lame Croc! “Brutal” River is right, it’s brutal getting through these boring sections without resorting to industrial strength crack!
Nong is back! Yeah! Wait, who the crap is Nong? Nong, or Jamnong Phimaan, is back on leave from the Thai army. He chats with police officer Narln as his wife, then sees Pikul Phimaan, who is happy to see her man. I’m not happy, as no one has become crocodile food yet! Luckily, the next scene involves several characters looking for a missing man named Kom, meaning he is most likely dinner (he is.) They are joined by Narnl, the village head, and several of the local men, including a monk. They don’t bring the police commissioner guy, as he’s useless. They decide at first to say that Kom is still alive until a body is found, even after finding his smashed boat and a scrap of his shirt. One of the more sensible men suggests that he was eaten by a gator, and suddenly everyone stares, and the music goes all super-dramatic. Narln says he’s never heard of a man-eating crocodile, showing how innocent the world was before the advent of SciFi Channel films. The missing man is enough to bring out the press corps, the whole Thai village press corps consisting of one lone reporter, and soon sensational journalism comes to Thailand. Narln spends his time looking at missing persons files (there seem to be an unusually large number…..hmm…..) and Nong stops by to invite him to dinner at his brother Chuan’s house. He knows Narln will come because Ked will be there as well. I am not sure of how she factors into the family equations, she dies later and Nong doesn’t seem affected like he lost a sister. Perhaps she’s Chuan’s wife’s sister. Or just someone they invite to dinners to try to set up. We jump right to dinner there, where Narln spends the entire evening staring at Ked, while the rest of the guests smile knowingly. Finally, Narln gets around to talking to Ked, something he shouldn’t be shy about since he’s already giving her motorcycle rides. Narln’s big discussion is how he likes Nong, and that Nong became a soldier because Nong’s brother Chuan wanted to but couldn’t due to him being sick. Well, at least it’s providing some back story for Nong, because this next part won’t: we get a love song video to hammer the point into us again and again that Narln and Ked are in love. Love. LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE. They’re in love, see, because of their love for love. Or something, the song’s in Thai but it sounds just like American slow love ballads, so it could be about lifelong love, lovers meeting, new love, no love without a glove, love lost, or human-crocodile bestiality. (That last one ought to get me some interesting Google Search Referrals!)
After MTV Thailand ends, finally we can have some death! That’s why I’m watching this lame movie. A man is alone in his boat on the canal, something long floats behind him and a splash is heard. Duh duh DUH!! I guess he makes it, as the croc spends later that night menacing cattle by the shore. A dog does what dogs do best, bark and bark and bark. Ghost Croc eats him in one chomp! This is one of the few high points of the film, signs that there was a decent film underneath some of the slow paced padding and useless love videos. The next day the townspeople speculate about the crocodile as rumors spread. The movie goes POV again with a daughter and her father in a boat, then grows bored with that and now jumps to two young women bathing in the canal to happy brass section music! This is a shameless showcase of two extra Thai hotties, the younger is named Nid and the older’s name wasn’t mentioned, and will be the closest we get to some gratuitous nudity. So I support it 100%$. Their splashing joy is interrupted by local troublemaker Somchai, who starts teasing them that they are the hottest family in town. They leave Somchai to be alone in the water, who then gets his legs bitten by the Ghost Croc! The two sisters scream and run and grab him, trying to pull him is as the croc pulls him into the water. Their screaming brings help (probably the 20-30 other guys peeping on them bathing) and the townspeople pull Somchai to shore, but without his legs below his knees.
The village chief realizes they need someone to deal with the problem ASAP, but we won’t have a task force for a little bit. First, an old noodle guy boats along the canal, wondering why all his customers aren’t coming out to the canal. His name turns out to be Jek In, and he gets a customer, one interested in fresh meat. We get a nicely shot scene where we see a bulge in the water close in behind his craft. Ghost Croc then knocks over his boat and chomps him up. Back at town, panic is spreading, and rumors are turning the croc into the Legendary Ghost Crocodile of Crocodile Ghostness, with sprinkles. Several of the townspeople start going stalking through the brush besides the canal hunting the croc, they are all males, but for some reason one brought his 8-year-old kid. I guess Ghost Croc ate his babysitter or something. They find a large crocodile nest but no crocodile. Meanwhile, Jek In’s widow puts up a 2000 Baht reward for the croc, and Kom’s widow adds an extra 1000 Baht. To put this in perspective, this is like $83,182(est.) in today’s money. It’s true, you can totally look it up yourself (but remember that today’s money varies depending what day today is. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.) The authorities theorize that the Ghost Crocodile is a hybrid of salt and freshwater crocs, which are known to be more aggressive. Well, this movie hits us with some biology all of a sudden! Keen. I don’t know enough about crocodile hybridization to know if the behavior described is accurate. The town gets prepared to organize real hunting parties, but some of the townspeople organize their own in search of the reward. They are lead by one of the men who was searching for the original missing husband named Nai. The authorities get wind of the plan, and stop their building of nets to go try to make sure they don’t hurt themselves. Nai’s big plan is to get lots of people together and just shoot the croc. Simple, but this movie is far too early to end now, so more likely people are going to get eaten.
Nai’s group shoots up a small canal lizard due to them being all scared and inexperienced civilians. The panic over the small lizard managed to knock the Village Head into the water, and as the official authorities show up (including the sub-district chief) we get GHOST CROCODILE ATTACK!!! They all paddle to shore with their boats, while the few in the water have to swim for their lives. I thought the Village Head would have been eaten, but he manages to get pulled ashore by some of the locals on the sidelines. The locals then begin throwing fruit at the Ghost Crocodile to drive it off. Hey, if they toss some of those huge durians with the spikes, they could probably kill that croc in one smack! Or the durian smell would kill the croc by itself. They’re grabbing food that is still cooking, as well as the fires the food is being cooked on, much of which with their bare hands. Ummmm….pot holders? Anyone? Nai has his rifle, but is too scared by the actual croc to be able to fire, so just stands there with the gun pointed at the Ghost Croc. Nong is there as well, and grabs Nai’s rifle, the blasts Ghost Croc three times in the head! Ghost Croc just shrugs off the damage and swims away. This is one tough crocodile! Kevlar lizard snouts. Many people are sent to the hospital for burns thanks to their refusals to use tongs to toss flaming logs at the Ghost Croc. Nong goes to visit his brother Chuan, who is in a boat, and Nong pulls him to safety just in time as the Ghost Croc chomps his boat. Ghost Croc is going bonkers!
Next, Pikul and Ked are walking home from work at the hospital. Ked is important to us, as she’s part of the Love Subplot. Blah blah love. Hey, look, it’s her man Narln coming on his bike to pick her up. For love. She heads toward him across a bridge….GHOST CROCODILE ATTACK!!! Ghost Croc chomps out the whole section of the bridge and Ked herself, all in one bite! Narln empties his gun into the Ghost Croc, but Ked is already dinner with a side of splinters from the bridge. Well, at least we won’t be having anymore music videos. Hopefully. I hear love served medium rare is quite tasty, especially with some A1 steak sauce.
Newspaper headlines go bonkers with their sensationalistic stories about the Ghost Croc. The village pitches in to buy a Witch Doctor (Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang) to eliminate the crocodile. This Witch Doctor (Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang) sits on a raft in the canal and does some witch doctor rituals, with relics and symbols around him. The entire village has turned out to watch him meditate on a raft. Meditation is the most effective means of crocodile elimination, don’t you know? This works so well, that the raft suddenly sinks, then resurfaces without a Witch Doctor (Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang) atop it! Ghost Croc surfaces, with the dead Witch Doctor (Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang) in its mouth, showing off for everyone, including the press!
Time to get a new Witch Doctor. This new one we will call Witch Doctor #2. (Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang #2) This new Witch Doctor (Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang #2) is Khmer and named Kongkeuy, but we’re still going to call him Witch Doctor #2. It’s not like he’ll be alive long enough to earn his name, anyway. This Witch Doctor (Witch Doctor #2) (Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang #2) uses traditional techniques as well as dynamite! This is the Jimmy “J.J.” Walker maneuver. Everyone in town is along the shore to watch this carnage as well. The Witch Doctor #2 (Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang #2) tosses some dynamite into the water, which explodes, but misses, and the Ghost Croc’s tail then exits the water and sweeps Witch Doctor #2 (Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang #2) into the canal. He’s chomped as well. Time to get a new Witch Doctor. Ghost Croc isn’t finished, and jumps up to smash the docks where several people are watching the show. They fall into the water, and Ghost Crocodile eats one of them as well. He’s a hungry, hungry crocodile. We’re out of Witch Doctors now, no more Ting Tang. The men get ready to try to hunt down the croc again themselves, and Pikul yells at a bunch of them for risking lives trying to find glory. I guess that’s supposed to be some sort of moral argument, but since the croc is portrayed solely as a cold blooded killing machine, there is no reason to feel sympathy for it, or to not support people hunting it down, as it will be eating people anyway. But she gets her way when Nong talks to the army, and they decide to help track down the Ghost Croc! At last, a task worthy of the Thai army besides overthrowing their government. I kid, I kid. Actually, they overthrew their government in the time between me watching the film and me writing up this recap. Seriously, no kidding. So that’s the main export of Thailand, coup d’etats.
The army gets a bunch of guys with guns and puts them on boats that patrol the canal, while happy brass music plays. The very same happy brass music that earlier signified girls bathing in the water, but sadly none now are. Damn you, Ghost Croc!!! Nong is one of those guys with guns on the boat. It’s neat seeing the army as arriving heroes instead of corrupt generals responsible for creating the monster, or inept Special Forces squads which get eliminated down to one lone member (and the random scientist/reporter girl) who must kill the creature. Thailand is bucking the tradition. The army spots a crocodile, and starts emptying hot lead into the water. Blood floats to the surface, indicating a hit. The army isn’t equipped with depth charges, which would have made for a cooler sequence, so they have to way until the next morning when they find the body and begin taking photographs with it. Well, that was easy! Ghost Croc, more like Dead Croc! Wait, that would still make it a ghost… Nevermind. Plus, we all know that isn’t the real croc, it was just a patsy. The army keeps searching for two months, but there is no sign of the crocodile. No one knows if it just left, if it’s hiding, or if it’s disguised as one of the main characters, just waiting for a Scooby-Doo moment where they rip the mask off of Pikul to reveal she’s really the crocodile! She would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for that meddling army!
Hey, we need some more death, so poor Chuan is going to get it. Chuan, the sick brother of Nong, is cooking food by the canal when the croc appears and chomps him! Chuan tries to fight back with his butcher knife, and Nong and Narln run over to help. They get knocked aside by the giant tail, and Chuan gets devoured. Poor Chuan. The army decides to do a new plan; they will wall off areas of the canal, trapping the croc for easy destruction. If the croc doesn’t just leave the canal and walk around the barriers. But don’t think about that. Or all the free dinner the croc will get from eating the people building the walls in the canal. Even under indiscriminate army fire, they’d probably loose several civilians if the croc attacked. Rotting meat will be used to attract the croc (why not just hire another Witch Doctor?) The commissioner character from way back in the beginning has reservations of the plan to shoot the Ghost Croc with machine guns, and proves he’s completely pointless as a character as he’s overruled quickly. Don’t fool around, der commissioner character’s in town, getting overruled! He either never appears again, or blends into the background to never become noticeable again.
That night, the Ghost Croc is spotted! The army fires, and we get nice CG shots of the croc dodging bullets underwater. Ghost Croc is the Neo of crocodiles, dodging bullets like they’re standing still. The next morning, they lay nets into the water, and sure enough, the Ghost Croc cometh! They fire bullets like crazy, and even start tossing grenades into the water! Not only will they kill the croc, they’ll have some good fishing! Or not. Especially since the army can’t hit this Ghost Croc, even though it’s literally the size of a broad size of a barn! The villagers all come and take out their guns, this town is more armed than Dodge City, Kansas, and Marshall Dillon is blasting away at the Ghost Croc as well! Ghost Croc manages to knock a dude into the water, who soon gets eaten. Still hungry, he knocks in a second guy, who’s also eaten. For those of you keeping score, it’s Village: 1, Ghost Croc: 50 billion trillion. Maybe the villages should stop leaning over railings when a freaking Ghost Crocodile is eating people around them! Nong jumps into the water (idiot!), swims toward the Ghost Croc, and pulls a knife! (Double idiot!) He stabs the Ghost Croc a few times, while I just watch in disbelief that someone is actually stabbing a bulletproof supercrocodile. Nong surfaces just as his wife Pikul comes to see what the commotion is about. He’s tossed a grenade, which he pulls the pin of and throws at the Ghost Croc. Stabbing works, but grenades don’t, and Nong is blown free of the water and lands ashore. Shrugging of grenade explosions, Nong’s just that tough, ladies and gentlemen! Narln is sick of these shenanigans and grabs another grenade, then swims out to meet the Ghost Croc. He pulls the grenade pin and lets the Ghost Croc eat him. Now that’s what I call a plan! After a short love flashback…..BOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!! Ghost Croc goes to pieces over Narln, big chunky pieces that fly way up into the sky and come splashing down. I wanted pieces to rain down on the survivors, but they don’t, sadly. But Ghost Croc is dead. Afterwards, Narration tells us that the government then killed 3000 Crocodiles and built roads and railroads. When the government wasn’t being overthrown, they mean.
Well, that’s that. SciFi Channel would do well to just plop down some money to air this movie, it’s crafted better than a quarter to half of what they show, easily. Plenty of extra scenes can be chopped out, which would even help the pacing. The best thing to happen to this movie might be a razorblade. Thai film is a budding industry, though they have a ways to go to become competition to powerhouses like fading Hong Kong and still on top South Korea. Thailand is emerging onto the scene as a new potential rival. Welcome to the grownups table. Hopefully you can solve your pacing problems. But as there are dozens of Thai horror films now, we’ll soon be seeing if they can compare to the rest of the world and deliver action.
See you later, alligator!
Rated 6/10 (Bullet scares, Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang, Croc Idol, Dynamite Idol, Pikul is concerned, This river lizard could defeat the entire village if it wanted to!)
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