Magnolia Pictures // 2011 // 107 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 3rd, 2013
Murder is the crime, truth is the victim.
Whenever someone remakes a movie, one's initial instinct is to compare the remake to the original. Does it find a new take on the material, offer a greater level of technical skill or improve upon the original's flaws? It's important to judge each film on its own terms, but that can be easy to forget when filmmakers are reworking someone else's movie rather than delivering something new. That's particularly true in the case of a film like At the Gate of the Ghost, a Thai remake of Rashomon that remains so faithful to the original that it becomes impossible to forget about Akira Kurosawa's towering achievement.
Our story: a young monk (Mario Maurer) is undergoing a crisis of faith after witnessing the execution of the forest bandit Singh Kham (Dom Hetrakul, Bangkok Dangerous), who may or may not have been guilty of the crime he was accused of. During a rainstorm, the monk hides out in a cave with a simple woodcutter (Petchtai Wongkamlao, Ong Bak) and an eccentric old undertaker (Pongpat Wachirabunjong, Chocolate) and begins conversing about the events that led to the bandit's execution. Over the course of the day, the monk hears a number of conflicting testimonies (including some thoughts from the dead bandit himself via a terrifying medium), and slowly but surely grows closer to learning the truth about what really happened.
At the Gate of the Ghost is a lavish, handsome production that tells a reasonably engaging story, so those coming into the film with no knowledge of Kurosawa's Rashomon are likely to find it satisfactory enough. The problem is, it's so similar to Kurosawa's Rashomon that it isn't able to establish its own identity, and it just isn't good enough to serve as a valid alternative. Among other things, the original features better performances, more humor, stronger pacing, more tension and a bigger emotional payoff. The remake does attempt to add a greater element of spirituality into the mix with languid, spiritually-minded bookend sequences (not to mention an opening card that dedicates the film to Buddha), but these scenes are too lifeless to make a big impact.
Of course, Rashomon has been remade before: The Outrage offered an American take on the story, and countless other films (from Courage Under Fire to Vantage Point) have borrowed elements of the film's unique structure. Unfortunately, At the Gate of the Ghost is the only one of these flicks that seems more interested in recreating the classic film than in riffing on it. There are fleeting moments of inspiration (such as the appearance of the medium, who is a genuinely frightening figure this time around) -- and I suppose those who can't bring themselves to watch a black-and-white movie might be more appreciative of the lush visual design -- but for the most part, the flick feels like reheated leftovers.
At the Gate of the Ghost (Blu-ray) offers a strong 1080p/2.35:1 transfer. The movie is certainly easy on the eyes, having more in common visually with something like House of Flying Daggers than the Kurosawa flick. Detail is strong throughout, though there are moments of softness and banding here and there. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is solid, offering an immersive mix that really springs to life during the occasional action sequences. By all means avoid the horrible English-language dub that is included and stick with the original Thai track (the default option, thankfully). Supplements include two brief featurettes ("The Making of a Legendary Story" and "Behind the Scenes") and a trailer.
Regarded strictly on its own terms, At the Gate of the Ghost is a decent way to kill a couple of hours. Even so, it's difficult to recommend the movie knowing that a vastly superior version of the same story exists. Only Thai cinema enthusiasts need apply.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Thai)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R