Review: Premika (NYAFF 2018)

by Matthew Hawkins

Time for the second New York Asian Film Festival 2018 review for today! If you missed the first one, here ya go. And this particular summation, as previously noted, is also centered upon the subject of revenge as administered by a very angry young woman…

Whereas the aforementioned Liverleaf‘s premise is cookie cutter, Premika‘s premise is most definitely not: there’s a ghost, whom the movie is named after, and she haunts… a karaoke machine. And as one might expect, Premika’s dishes out justice, which in this case involves hapless victims being forced to sing songs, chosen at random. If the performance is poor, the singer dies. Believe it or not, underneath this wacky concept is a surprising degree of nuance, even logic. Though surrounding it is a movie that is not quite accessible.

Any horror flick is off to a good start if the killer’s actually original, and if the same could be said about those will be killed, that’s a bonus, right? Well… the karaoke machine resides at a countryside retreat and, after meeting the two cops investigating a young woman’s dismembered corpse who form the narrative spine, we’re then introduced to an exceptionally colorful cast of characters, VIP guests for the hotel. You’ve got two pop divas, plus their manager, as well as an entire boy band, though one that’s a bit dysfunctional. Also, the aforementioned manager of the two women once turned down the chance to rep the two ugly guys in the band, before they hooked up with the two pretty boys (and eventually found success, via association). Don’t forget the reporters plus a couple, two regular folk; naturally the gal is impressed by the famous faces but the guy not so much.

There’s a LOT going on, or so one would expect, though only a few of interesting character dynamics are actually presented and explored, despite the fact that no one dies in the first 30 minutes. It becomes quickly apparent that Premika is the effort of a first-time filmmaker, one with plenty of great ideas, plus an eye for style (visually, the film feels like a curious combination of a K-pop music vid, a J-horror flick, and The Grand Budapest Hotel), but who does not have a firm grasp of the basics, such as the ability to pace things out. True, it often takes a while before blood is finally shed, but with so many personalities types that are capitalized upon, it becomes a real slog. Not helping is the director’s affinity for kooky sound effects to really drive the humor home, which gets old quick. Some might say that the humor is simply geared towards Thai audience, hence why it didn’t get with me… meaning it may not with you either.

I haven’t even touched upon the portrayal of the one gender bending character, which will definitely make some uncomfortable; Asian cinema, especially outside of Japan and Korea, regularly reminds one of how LGBT related matters are viewed quite… differently on the other side of the world. Oh, and there’s a bunch of Thai pop culture references that went completely over my head. Yet, despite it all, is a legitimately intriguing concept once again. Spirits of vengeance will often remind those who are about to be killed of the sins that they’ve hidden deep within their souls… which are often brought to light when singing some emotional ballad in a karaoke booth. Call me crazy, but I find that kinda genius. A genius idea that’s worth the rough edges, hence why I can’t help but recommend Premika as well; it’s playing Friday July 13, 8:15pm at the SVA Theatre.

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