27 November 2007

Love of Siam รักแห่งสยาม

(There're a lot of spoilers in this review. Read it at your own risk.)

Some say we need to write to exorcise the evil in us, some say we need to write to heal the pain, some say we need to write to say who we are, some say we need to write to make lies become truths ...

With Love of Siam, writing its review can be any of this. For me, the film is too close for comfort. I grew up and studied in an all-boy Christian school, had some good and bad memories there, but of course I didn't have any musical talent (so I couldn't be Mew), and I didn't have a robot as a girlfriend (so I couldn't be Tong either). But something in the film did strike a chord and left me speechless after watching the film. We watched the film on Saturday and I left loneliness to eat my heart at the core for two days before writing this review.

The film entails the coming-of-age stories of at least four main characters (Tong, Mew, Ying, and Donut) and the estranged relationship between Korn and Sunee (Tong's parents). Tong's sister disappeared mysteriously when he was young and the family has been falling apart since then. Father addicted to alcohol and Mother becoming Hitler. It's no one's fault, of course.

What I like about the film are (1) a good no-nonsense script (2) superb acting (3) good symbolism (strictly in that order). I can't believe that the director is only in his late twenties. Well, coming to think about it, I think this may be the best time of our life to direct a film about love among teenagers -- one's neither too pessimistic nor too optimistic. If he chooses to write and direct this in his forties or fifties, he might not believe in love anymore. :)

It's a film full of complexities and contradictions and I think this makes the film a precious item. One of the main contradictions is its genre -- it sets out to be a romance, yet its twist at the end really makes us wonder and leads us first to anger and then to puzzlement and then to understanding of the conditions of life. Of course I admit that I was annoyed when the film finished as I thought that Tong and Mew should've got together as a reward for my silence for the past two hours and a half (whilst the rest of the audience became urang-utangs, shrieking and shouting during the screening, especially with THAT scene when Tong and Mew are at it).

Well, when I come to think seriously about it, maybe Tong needs to be with his family, taking care of his Mom before she's completely transmogrified into a fuhrer-cum-psychopath. So what we have here is no longer a shallow romance, but something indescribable. A sense of responsibility perhaps, but one may of course wonder whether Tong will eventually get married and have a gay relationship at the same time. Hmm ... and who will suffer, if not his wife and his Mom? So I think this ending is realistic and at the same time presupposes ensuing series of problems. Who knows whether in the future Tong may get drunk and be like his Dad, leaving his wife estranged too? And of course it's going to get worse as this time there's no love between them.

Thinking about love, I think this film exemplifies the belief that love cannot solve everything. Korn and Sunee love each other but their love doesn't lead to happiness, because to love for them is also to hold on something. Korn's love for Taeng turns him into an alcoholic loser, and Sunee's love for Tong only makes him hide his homosexual tendency. Maybe the film wants to say that when you love someone, you need to set that special someone free. You can't entrap them forever. I get the feeling that in this film 'family' is a pejorative term, a form of entrapment, especially a father-mother-son-daughter family. Mew's family is much better, much liberated, with only his grandmom and him. Despite loneliness and isolation, Mew seems to understand himself more than his friends and even say 'thank you' to Tong at the end. Mew is simply too nice but not innocent (he's a slut sometimes -- I can tell from how he looks at Tong seductively).

OK, if this form of family is oppressive, maybe that's why the director decides to have a 'tragic' ending, in which love is reciprocated but a relationship as such cannot be formed. I think we're treading into the so-called unconditional love which is theoretically purer than other kinds of love (even motherly love, I guess). In this way, both Tong and Mew love each other but neither of them will, or can, expect anything in return. This may be the only form of love that can survive untainted in the contemporary world of evils, seductions, guiles, robotic Donuts, drunk fathers, workaholic moms, and lonely teenagers resorting to alcohols and drugs. (Well, I don't like this unconditional kind of love, to be honest; it looks romantic in the film but I'm sure in reality it's a piece of shit!)
Well, let's talk about acting. Everyone seems to do their job fine. Plaudits go to Sinjai Hongthai for her superb performance as a feminine Hitler, both hurt and power-crazed. Korn is ok. Tong may be a robot but his eyes manage to play the role for him. Mew is a slut! I really think he's gay. Ying is so-so at the beginning, but starts to shine towards the end, when her role becomes more complex. Her form of love is very idealistic: her tears and facial expression at the end show both pain and delight, pain to see her Mew about to lose (if not having lost!?!) his virginity to Tong, and delight to see Mew happy. But alas ... if only she sees what really turns out ...
Donut ... Donut ... Donut ... I'm sure a lot of people out there will say that she's crap. But for me she's the BEST. By being Donut (i.e., a robot), she manages to portray the complex conditions of contemporary urban teenagers, insensitive to beauty and joy in their lives, yet hungry for these at the same time. The fact that she acts like a robot may seem like bad acting, but it turns out to be realistic. If you go to Siam Square, I'm sure you're going to find a lot of teenagers talking like Donut, eating like Donut, being an automaton like Donut, insensitive and lost like Donut, and last but not least CLUELESS like Donut. This is of course pretty sad, but at least being clueless for these teenagers is better than being aware and then being sensitive and then being lonely and hurt like Mew. Who would you choose to be? So for me, being clueless is actually a form of self-preservation.
Oh, I forgot about June and Taeng. Are they the same person? Of course they're not. June/Taeng functions like a token, a symbol to show that shit really happens, people really do disappear and never come back. Tong's family needs to come to terms with this disappearence -- there's no magic or coincidence.
So, what's the lesson of this film? Love and loss are just two sides of the same coin, maybe. But I would go further. I think the director wants to pose a question: what will you do when you realise this? Some choose to hold onto illusion, like Korn. Some choose to keep this repressed but try to hold onto what remains and makes the best of it, like Sunee, even though sometimes her good will may turn into a form of domination. Some are simply lost without anything to hold onto, like Tong. Some choose to shut themselves in the well of loneliness, like Mew. Some choose to ignore all this, becoming an insensitive robot, like Donut. Some choose to let go and see happiness blossom in other people's hearts, like Ying. These are ways that people choose and I can't say which is better than the others. We are too human to make a judgement.
So here I leave you all to ponder. Love of Siam is really a film about 'love' and it does portray the full complexities of the term.

18 November 2007


Rope, a famous film by Hitchcock, is another suspense worth watching, not only for its riveting plot but also its homoerotic overtone. Needless to say, Hitchcock's name guarantees its superb editing and no-nonsense storytelling.

The plot centres on two young men, Brandon and Philip, who just finishes the perfect murder of their friend David Kently. The murder is inspired by their former teacher's rather cynical view of killing, that there exists such an 'art of murder' in which the inferior fall victim to the superior. Ethics is in this sense created by the winner rather than by the loser. I personally found this rather grim view inspired by the WWII, the impact of which was still ongoing when the film was made in 1948, harking back to Hitler and his compatriots who mercilessly killed millions of Jewish people without any sense of remorse.

What is interesting, though, is the representation of gay people as being able to perpetrate this atrocious act. Clearly aesthetes, both Brandon and Philip are implicitly represented as gay, as both stay in the same apartment and plan to go on holiday together after the party. Some may say that the murder committed by them represents a revenge gay people may wish to take upon society at large which oppresses them. But I beg to differ. I think queer people are blessed, not only with knowing all the social rules, but also with knowing how to play and negotiate with these rules. With social stigmata, they realise that social rules are nothing but social constructs aimed at marginalising some minorities, and these rules are not founded upon the absolute, transcendental truth, but contingent conditions. This understanding makes gay people rather cynical and sophisticated, questioning social ethics and morals.

But of course this sophisticated (some may label this 'postmodern') view on life is out of place at the time of the Second World War, where leniency and play were juxtaposed with the mass murder, whose effect was both palpable and close. This view is therefore severely put under fire. I think somehow the film questions this ruthless 'ethics' of postmodernism even before postmodernism is made into a tangible current. In other words, the film puts forth the limits of postmodern ethics of 'anything goes' and calls for a reconsideration of some absolute ground rules.

How about queer representation? I think they are unlucky in this film, as they are linked with this postmodern view. Sexual orientation and intentional killing are so far different on the scales of ethics. By juxtaposing them together in a single matrix of representation, the film makes scapegoats out of gay people, which somehow is as terrible as gay-bashing.

10 November 2007

4 months 3 weeks and 2 days

I hate Gabita. She's one of the most annoying characters I've ever encountered so far in world cinema. I'm talking about 4 months 3 weeks & 2 days, a Romanian film directed by Cristian Mungiu. Gabita is an innocent girl who got pregnant and decides to have an abortion. (Well, to say that she's innocent is wrong -- I hardly believe that women who get pregnant after consenting sex are innocent. Psychologically, I believe they try to "act" innocent because they think men like it. Personally, I think it's one of the willful guiles women have. This of course is related to what Thai people call "ab baew", something that I'll tackle later in this blog if I have time and energy.)

The trouble is ... Gabita is living in Communist Romania, where abortion, let alone extramarital sex and foreign cigarettes, can make you go to jail. She needs to ask her too-good-to-be-true friend Otilia to help out. Otilia needs to meet a surgeon, book a hotel room, have sex with the surgeon, and get rid of Gabita's foetus, while Gabita does nothing but spreading her legs in the hotel room waiting for the foetus to come out and recovering from pain. It's so unfair. I can't believe how irresponsible Gabita can be. I think Otilia is too good by consenting to do all this. Had I been Otilia, I wouldn't have hesitated to give her a good slap on her face to bring back her conscience. Of course, the film addresses the current problem Romania needs to face with the onslaught of capitalism, but for me the main point is a personal relationship between these two people, and how Gabita exploits their relationship for her own ends.

Otilia has her own problems too. Her boyfriend belongs to a different class, as his father is a doctor and their family lives in a comfortable urban apartment. By contrast, Otilia lives in a dorm and her family is by no means significant. If she becomes pregnant, she's definitely in an inferior position. That's why Gabita's problem puts strain on her relationship with her boyfriend, as it's not just gender, but class, that she's at a disadvantage.

The film attempts with great success to portray the reality of the whole thing. The whole event just happens in one day, sticking to the unity of time -- one day that I wouldn't surely want to experience.

Help me eros

Help me eros or Bangbang wo aishen is one of the films that was screened at the recent film festival here at Esplanade. Thanks went to Tik for complimentary tickets for this wonderful film. It's another film that attempts to make urban loneliness beautiful. The main characters are Ah Jie and Chyi, whose sophisticated romance develops in loveless Taipei.

Ah Jei is a suicidal man who grows marijuana at home. It may not totally wrong to say that he's a loser in a dog-eat-dog urban arena, with nothing to look forward to. Desire is important in this film. Even though Chyi falls for Ah Jie, it doesn't seem their love is romantically reciprocated in a traditional sense. Of course they have sex, but sex has been rendered worthless in this city. (Chyi herself works as a hostess.) Ah Jie also longs for another woman, a beautiful girl whom he takes to be the person who responds to his helpline calls. But it turns out the real woman who is attentive to his calls and problems is an overweighed woman, estranged in her relationship with a husband who is more interested in cross-dressing, rather than her love.

Somehow the complicated situation reflects the mental state of urbanites who are never satisfied with their present state, always on the lookout for a brighter future, more money, etc. No one seems to be happy in this film, but somehow this state of unhappiness is made beautiful. The scene to look for is a sexual scene where patterns of luxury bags such as Vuitton, Fendi, etc. are projected on the naked bodies, perhaps signifying that bodies are commodities as well as the need for this luxury "branding" to survive in the urban space. Also, the scene with the overweighed woman lying in a bath with phallic eels. I think these two surreal scenes say just about everything about the film.