24 February 2008

Bangkok Love Story เพื่อนกูรักมึงว่ะ

I believe that there isn't a better way to finish off a weekend than watching a romantic film. Hearing mixed reviews, I entrust upon myself that it's time to watch Bangkok Love Story which happened to be on the shelf for a while. I didn't buy it and Madge didn't either, so there's only one culprit ...

However, expecting the worst, I found the film not as bad as some people said. Well, it'd be a lot better if you press the mute button on your remote control and just sit back and watch the beautiful landscapes and skylines of Bangkok. Cinematography was great and I thought that the whole film was like a long music video with some really beautiful shots of unseen Bangkok. The soundtrack was also good and I liked the sad melody that accompanied the tragic love between the main two men.

However, the film would've been perfect if these flaws had not occurred.

(1) Bad script. The film suffered from bad script, especially the dialogue on Ith's part -- how he uses 'khun' all the time. It just seemed too unnatural and fake. Some dialogues are too sweet; it's more like from a mouth of a teenager, than a mature cop.

(2) Bad acting. Ith's cute face couldn't hide his acting flaw, especially his voice. When he sees Mek in a glass room and tries to give him a ring, he doesn't seem to plead. His voice lacks emotion and the whole scene looks like Ith is chanting a Pali scripture to Mek. No wonder Mek tries to run away. Also, when Ith is waiting in front of the house of Mek's mother, he seems more like a ghost from behind wanting to strangle Mek?

(3) Bad plot.

3.1 Is this just me? I just don't believe in Mek's killing policy, i.e. his intention to kill only bad people. I just don't believe that Ith would desperately want to help Mek so much after all that has happened, even helping bathe his own assassin. Come on. It's Bangkok, for God's sake! Ith even talks to his own assassin using 'khun' all the time. What a polite man.

3.2 What's this hi-so wooden bathtub on top of the building? Why does Mek suddenly decide to splash his cash on this expensive item? Maybe Mek's a hi-so after all but likes to pretend he's poor. And what's more incredible is Ith's scrubbing Mek's body with a loofah. A LOOFAH? Yes, a loofah. Of all the things in the world, it's a loofah. Don't ask me why such a poor assassin who doesn't care much about appearance needs to properly scrub himself. I laughed so hysterically watching this scene that my partner closed his eyes with annoyance.

3.3 What's this thing with underwear? There seems to be underwear sale next to where Mek lives, because both Ith and Mek seem to love wearing underwear a lot, both during daytime and nighttime. What's weird is when Mek kicks Ith out of his place, Ith comes home wearing only underwear to see his wife after disappearing with his new lover for three days. Imagine that -- walking all over Bangkok in underwear. The weather must've been terribly hot! His wife would probably think that Ith's a nutcase.

3.4 What's this thing with the face of Mek's mother? Why's it always dirty? I know they're poor but do they need to be dirty?

3.5 Why does it rain too often in Bangkok? In the film, it rains whenever they make love. Maybe if Isan suffers a draught, we will ask them to perform this sacred ritual to help Thai farmers.

3.6 Who kills Mek at the end? Is it one of the bad people who survive Mek's killing spree and who wait twenty five years to serve Mek just desserts? Is it the doctor who couldn't cure Mek's brother? Is it the ghost of Mek's mother? Is it Ith's wife? We never know and the filmmakers don't seem to care to give us a clue either.

(4) Excessive melodrama.

The scene where Ith tries to touch Mek's hand though there's a window in between is one of my favourite. I remembered laughing my brain out. Also, the scene in the jail when Mek puts Ith's hand next to his heart almost sent me to heaven. The film also pays too much time and attention to those scenes where Ith tries to look for Mek. What they should've done is to elaborate on how love actually occurs, not how both become lovelorn.

The point is ... it's such a romantic film, but Bangkok Love Story seems to be a bit late in the Thai cinema history. Had it been made twenty years ago, surely the audience would've loved it, a lot too. But not nowadays when people are more corrupt and too cynical to buy this sentimental melodrama. Wisit Sasanatieng also directed a melodrama once, but at least he parodied himself by narrating the film in a touch-in-cheek manner. I'm talking about Tears of the Black Tiger here where he uses excessive, bold colours to express extreme sentimentalism.

Don't take me wrong but the film in general is not that bad. I still like its cinematography. I think it's one of the best that I've seen. They took particular care in choosing where the actors need to stand and what position to film them. Bangkok has never looked so cool.

OK I admit that I'm a bit too sarcastic today. But I've read a bad thesis that needs a considerable amount of revision. Don't even get me start talking about this ...

23 February 2008

Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios | Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

I can't recall how much I'd been fascinated by Mediterrenean culture until I watched an old film by Pedro Almodovar the other day. Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios is its title and I was not disappointed. The bright colours of the actresses' dresses and their excessively stylised acting are probably Almodovar's intention to highlight the melodramatic overtone. For some reason, I was not appalled by his use of melodrama as it's self-reflexive, parodying its own appearance while managing to get their points across -- unlike those dramas on Thai television which are not wary of their powerful effect in dumbing down the audience.

My first impression is how these actresses have lives, how their emotion and passion make them human. They have fears, desires, and other powerful feelings such as arrogance and rage -- all of these are incurred by their tendency to fall in love with wrong men. Coincidences abound; needless to say that Almodovar probably takes less care in making the whole plot believable than in creating a masterpiece of violent yet totally human emotion. One of the characters, I believe it's Lucia, brilliantly played by Julieta Serrano, reminds me of Iron Pussy in the eponymous film by Apichatpong. Like Iron Pussy, Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios is a film that glorifies the marginalised gender and how they need to cope with the omnipotent system of patriarchy. They shine, nonetheless, even though they know that they are losing the battle, as most of the female characters are lovelorn or heartbroken. Yet, there's something beautiful in their choice to confront these uphill struggles of gender politics.

Compared with Almodovar's later films, this one may not have brilliant, perfect plots like Hable con ella or La mala educacion, but there's certainly something electrifying there.

There's an overly melodramatic song in this film -- 'Soy infeliz' is its title.

Lola Beltran

Soy infeliz porque se que no me quieres para que mas insistir
vive feliz si el amor que tu me diste para siempre resenti
soy infeliz porque se que no me quieres, piensas que ____ morir

que me sirvan otra trago, cantinero, yo los pago
pa' calmar este sufrir
vive feliz en tu mundo de ilusiones
no pienses mas en tu amor y tus traiciones
soy infeliz porque se que no me quieres, piensas que ____ morir

que me sirvan 4 tragos, cantinero, yo los pago
pa' calmar este sufrir
vive feliz en tu mundo de ilusiones
no pienses mas en tu amor y tus traiciones
soy infeliz porque se que no me quieres, piensas que ____ morir

que me sirvan otra trago, cantinero, yo los pago
pa' calmar este sufrir

17 February 2008

Atonement ตราบาปลิขิตรัก

Again, this blog entry contains spoilers, as I'd like to comment on the whole film. The surprise ending of course is crucial to my interpretation. Those who haven't watched the film but wish to do so are advised not to read this just yet.


I've heard about the film for a long time and the novel has been sitting somewhere on the shelf since time immemorial. But it's only Friday that I had a chance to see Atonement. While others may like it because of the tragedy that befalls the relationship between the upper-class Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner, a man who comes from a different class but tries to move socially upwards through his medical study at Cambridge. But of course this film is set during the World War so the class structure was then pretty volatile.

But I don't like the film because of the romance as much as its beautiful storytelling. Everything is so stylised and I think it's aimed to be that way, as the whole film borders on the thin line between fiction and reality. The whole thing might just as well have come from Briony's own imagination from the start. The attempt to stay away from the realist mode of narrative can be seen from the repetition of two crucial scenes that lead to Briony's own renditions that in turn lead to catastrophic results. The repetition is superbly done: one is the scene whereby Cecilia and Robbie has a row in front of the fountain, and the other is their sexual scene. Briony also witnesses these incidents and interprets them in her own way, influenced by her childish fantasy.

The repetition of these two scenes, significantly from two different perspectives, shows how the whole film is self-consciously aware of its own imaginary potential and that's perhaps why it 'unashamedly' flaunts its surreal side. Notice the scenes when Briony visits Cecilia again or when Robbie is at war in France. Of course part of the fantasy is to shed light on how Briony 'rewrites' the whole narrative from her own point of view and it's her story that is aimed to be her atonement. I think this is a pretty smart twist, albeit one wonders whether she actually feels guilty, considering the fact that she probably earns a lot of money from this 'last' novel of hers. Cynical as I am and have always been, I think Briony exploits her own atonement by turning it into a business that earns her both plaudit and money. Even though some people may sympathise with her thinking that it's the best she could've done, I wonder whether perhaps it'd have been better if she had decided to apologise and to remedy the whole situation when there's still time -- not when it's too late and you only see her victoriously voicing her own guilt on air with her eyes brimful of tears. She's a wicked girl, indeed, from the beginning to the end.

But another reason why fantasy is portrayed in the film is the war. War is ludicrous and the whole thing looks terribly absurd in the time of war. Soldiers have bad memories and terrible nightmares, simply because the reality is so harsh and brutal. Imagine you walk into the woods like Robbie and see twenty innocent people killed for apparently no other reasons than they're on the opposite side. Personally the scene that touched me the most is when Briony needs to be by the side of a dying soldier whose skull is split open. His brain is injured, causing him to imagine and mix up scenes from the past. Briony is there with him trying to play a part in his own imagination so that the soldier can die happily. Sadly to say, Briony should've learnt from this incident and at least gone to see her sister Cecilia and Robbie and help construct or at least remedy past memories before it's too late.

The film does make me wonder: what's the point of writing a novel to atone for those who don't have the chance to read your work? Is it fair that Briony confesses to her crime just before she loses her memory due to dementia and in the process gains acceptance and forgiveness from those who actually are not the victims? I think not. She's at least not forgiven by me.

09 February 2008

Enchanted มหัศจรรย์รักข้ามภพ

Yesterday after work we decided to see a film at Paragon. I was wavering between Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd and Walt Disney's Enchanted. I didn't know what possessed me and made me choose the latter; perhaps it's a long day yesterday and I wanted to see some feel-good films. And tell you what -- Enchanted is in fact a really feel-good film, and it can make you feel so good you can puke.

Despite rave reviews, I didn't like the film that much. It's too clean and the plot seems directed to a certain 'happy' ending it has planned no matter ludicrous many events can appear to be. I know Walt Disney tries to offer a new version of fairy-tale by having it set in the urban background of New York. Disney even agrees to have cockroaches and rats accompany Giselle (our Princess-to-be) in her singing act. Disney even allows Giselle to fight the evil stepmother who takes the form of a formidable dragon to save the life of her urban prince (notice the gender reversal).

But of course I went to see the film expecting something more transgressive and radical, such that the princess is transported into New York and along the way she is transformed into a lesbian or a transvestite. Or the fairy-tale prince who decides to come to New York to help her is turned into a toad or a singing washing machine. I don't know why I'm not that impressed with this sugar-coated facade; perhaps of late I've seen so many weird films that I can no longer relate to reality or the beauty of fairy tale. Perhaps I'm still too cynical to enjoy it. Perhaps I just hate the happy ending. Perhaps, more important of all, I just don't believe it!

I admitted that Walt Disney has tried hard to put some mildly transgressive elements into the film, but I think the film is still mainly targeted to young children or those adults who pretend to believe, or delude themselves into believing, that such a fairy-tale world and such a fairy-tale turn of events can happen in the real world.

Besides, I still believe that the film dwells on certain prejudices such as the casting of the evil as a woman, whereas all men in the film are good, even Nathaniel who was originally the wicked queen's sidekick but who subsequently chooses to help the prince and Giselle instead. Also, the prejudiced use of colour -- blonde and brunette -- is also significant. Giselle has blonde hair while Nancy has brunette hair. Giselle has always been the superior princess with her blonde hair, her innocence, and her easy-going character. She's quite easy to be tamed. Nancy, efficient and sophisticated, is not allowed that role because she's not as easily tamed. Hence, the plot gets rid of her by sending her to Andalasia to marry the fairy-tale prince instead (which for me is more like a punishment).

The princes are also interesting. Giselle's final decision to be with Robert Philip instead of Prince Edward reveals a stark message: even though Philip is not as good-looking as Edward, but what he has is money. The scene where Giselle is out with Philip's daughter shopping and using Philip's credit card is to me quite 'dirty', as it somehow tells the audience that princesses in the modern world should like to go shopping and spending money to make themselves look beautiful. What is worse is that they are not beautiful for their own benefit, but they're beautiful for men's benefit. In this case, Giselle dresses up to please men, both Edward and Philip, at the ball. Perhaps Giselle's choice turns to be quite realistic: in the real world of fully-grown capitalism you should go out with someone who is wealthy enough to pay your bill, rather than with a handsome guy with just idiotic dreams but no money.

Sad, init? But I think this message is well-hidden behind Giselle's melodious voice and a cute chipmunk (who I think is the best character of this film).

07 February 2008

The Lost Room


One of my students lent me something to watch and think once again (as if I didn't have enough on my plate already). She said it's definitely worth watching and it's promised to be time better spent than watching air hostesses bitching about on Thai national TV or reading boring tomes of theses. She's right. The Lost Room is a very interesting TV mini series, starring the like of Peter Krause, who earlier made an indelible mark as Nate Fisher in Alan Ball's Six Feet Under.

The Lost Room starts with an interesting premise: what if you can have a key which can take you anywhere in the world. The key is 'an object' that belongs to a motel room than can perform miracles. There are other objects that wait to be discovered too, such as a pen that can burn people, a pair of scissors that can 'rotate' things and people, a glass eye that can destroy or rejuvenate flesh, a comb that can freeze time, and a bus ticket that can expel someone to a town in New Mexico. People who know about the existence of these objects start to collect them and before long they are obsessed. They believe that if they can collect everything, they can communicate with God or become God themselves.

The idea itself is fascinating and the plot of this mini series revolves around the disappearance of Joe Miller's daughter in the mysterious motel room and the search for her by Joe himself. Unlike other 'collectors', Joe is not interested in being a magpie gathering these objects for his own ends, but his motive is purely to use these objects to help emancipate his daughter. This altruistic ideal sets him apart from other people and leads to a satisfying ending.

But I'm not here to tell you the plot. No need to, because if you start watching it, you'll get hooked anyway and want to know how the increasingly complex story ends. The ending of course is to an extent acceptable but still fails to answer quite a few questions, such as how come this motel room and these objects exist in the first place and why the room was demolished. These are in fact the central point of the whole series, but they are left unanswered. I guess they, the producers I mean, want to keep these for the next season. I personally find that quite cruel.

The obsession with objects is not a new topic in the art world. Borges wrote quite a few stories on the craze people have for objects, such as 'The Zahir' and 'The Book of Sand'. These objects make people crazy yet they still want to possess them. I think the subtext is more than clear: it derides those of us who love to collect stuff for its own sake and never to let go of them. In the age of capitalism, the object is of course money. Money is perhaps a prime object that everyone seeks after. Money itself is not significant, but what it leads to is more important. Money in this case means possibilities, as it can lead to holidays, new homes, new cars, other objects that can fulfill your dream that cannot in fact be fulfilled. Capitalism in a way teaches us that we must not be satisfied with what we have, but should buy more and have more. It is perhaps not wrong to say that capitalism generates greed.

What is The Lost Room in this context? Its message is clear: don't get obsessed with objects, even though objects can lead to happiness. But one should ask oneself what one's happiness is. Joe's is his life with his daughter. Other characters simply haven't found what their happiness is, so they hang on 'objects' because they are equated with 'future possibilities'. This is quite sad, but it nicely portrays how insecure we are and how we need to hold onto something in the present simply because we don't know what tomorrow brings. I on the other hand know what tomorrow brings. A class, a meeting, a series of tutorials, etc. endlessly ...