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.


Kiattisak said...

I really like your review! Perhaps the best amongst what I've read so far. Not only is it explicative, but also neatly written. I came here via Google. If without mentioning about yourself a bit in the introduction, I'd've thought you're a native English wordsmith. Your students at CU are so lucky! :)

dechito said...

Thanks for your comments. It's nice to know there's always somebody out there who attentively reads what I've written. :)

Anonymous said...

I love your review!!! Very well written.
I cried when I was reading it T_T

dechito said...

I need to use this space for a little notekeeping for myself. I've found a good quote by Catherine Belsey. I think it could very well be applied to this film.

"The classic stories of Lancelot and Guinevere, Romeo and Juliet, Abelard and Heloise, do not end happily, but they do end. In Brief Encounter and Casablanca the plots are to some degree resolved in renunciation, but what is immobilized and thus perpetuated is not domesticity but desire itself, and the central figures are invested with a corresponding heroism, since only unsatisfied love is truly heroic. Love transfigures; it elevates and transforms the lover as well as the beloved, since desire inhabits a secret realm which is paradoxically more real and more luminous than the light of every day. Tragedy immortalizes the glory of the lovers, lifting them clear of breathing human passion."

From Catherine Belsey, Desire: Love Stories in Western Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), p. 39.

Anonymous said...

Good movie, I'm a little late to watching it, but it definitely left its effect on me as I've spent a few days trying to figure out what it was supposed to tell its audience. I've come to some conclusions about it myself: the importance of loved ones in our lives and that it matters not if the time spent with them is finite. The movie is about family, romance, friendship, coming of age, and as much as most movies try to show these things in exclusion to each other, they are often extremely interconnected (that is what makes it most realistic to me, since it is actually the way these things often interfere with each other that makes it actually not so ideal in real life).

By the way, I especially like your comment about Donut. I thought she was a bit of a dud too (to the point of wondering why she was constantly featured in promotional material when I thought the character of June was much more important), but you gave a very interesting way to interpret her presence in the movie. You are right that she may actually be the most realistic character of the movie, since I'm sure a lot of us have, at some point or another or even most of the time, just decided it was easier to simplify the world rather than engage it and everything that is wrong about it.

In any case, I usually like to do things legally if I can, so I don't like that I had to watch the movie online. I eagerly await a Hong Kong DVD release that includes English subtitles as they usually do.

yueh_3 said...

What a nice review. I love it. And I love the movie as well... :-)

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