Hong Kong Digital is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong Kong Filmography.
One of the few major films produced in Cambodian in the time since the Khmer Rouge banned virtually all forms of entertainment in the 70s, this Cambodia / Thailand co-production is the fourth adaptation of an enduring local fable. While out one day with her abusive, alcoholic lout of a husband, Manop, young maiden Nhi (Ampor Tevy) encounters a large snake. Suddenly, a ray shoots from the reptile's eyes and the girl passes out. When she comes to, Nhi has no memory of what happened but she encounters the creature again shortly thereafter when the tip of the spade she borrowed from her husband breaks off and lands in its lair. Speaking to the woman, the snake offers to return the piece, if Nhi consents to be its lover. Fearing the wrath of Manop, the woman agrees and is visited that night by a handsome young stud who proves to be a far more attentive and satisfying lover than Manop (who is off selling beads in another town). Nhi continues to sleep with the shape-shifting creature and eventually becomes pregnant. When he finally learns what has been happening, Manop slits open her belly with a sword, releasing a dozen serpents, one of which escapes his murderous rage. Kindly priest Bang discovers the reptile, just as it transforms into a human baby, which he christens Soraya and takes into his care. The child grows up to be a normal looking little girl, save for her hair, which is filled with writhing snakes, that she keeps hidden from everyone but her guardian. The film resumes ten years later, with the now teenage Soraya (Pich Chanboramey) falling for unconscious stranger Veha (Winai Kraibutr, from the Thai blockbuster NANG NAK), whom she has just saved from drowning. Bang presents Soraya with a magic ring that gives her the appearance of normalcy and the now-revived Veha quickly falls for his lovely benefactor. However, the old man warns Soraya that, if she ever loses her virginity, she will become a snake forever.
Pich Chanboramey. Image courtesy Winson.
The depiction of gorgons in western films rarely convinces because the appearance and movement of the snakes never seems realistic. Director Fay Sam Ang overcomes this problem by simply presenting the real thing: dozens of tiny snakes attached to a wig worn by the two actresses playing Soraya, an innovation that manages to be both comical and creepy at the same time. (Animal lovers will also be less than thrilled with two sequences that feature live snakes being chopped to pieces). When approaching SNAKER (sic), however, one should not expect the polish and innovation of a NANG NAK. There are a number of unintentional laughs (two characters perish in such a contrived fashion, you could swear that the producers enlisted Ulli Lommel to come up with the scene) and the premise is stretched wafer thin. Just when we should be preparing for a third act confrontation, the viewer is taken on a music video tour of Ankor Wat and there is an especially tired subplot about Veha's jealous and superficial fiancee doing her best to drive Soraya from her intended's household. Pich Chanboramey's sweet turn is almost eclipsed by some seriously overwrought supporting performances, and the comic relief servant and his equally dippy wife induce far more pain than laughter. That said, the film remains intriguing and offers much that will interest students of Asian cinema and, in particular, those fascinated by the region's mythology.