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 ...


Mat said...

"it'd be a lot better if you press the mute button".

"The soundtrack was also good".

Hmm, if you press the mute button you won't hear the soundtrack...

And I'm sure people who haven't seen it yet are really grateful to know that Mek is murdered at the end.

Yours truly,

'The culprit'.

Anonymous said...

[warning: spoiler info, don't read if you haven't watched]

I don't know if the film would've been perfect without the 'flaws' you mention, but it could've been improved. I think the 'flaws' sometimes lay elsewhere, though. Looking at your points:

1) bad script. Well, I would've liked more dialogue to fill out the development of the two leads' emotions for each other. We get a few revealing scenes early on (watching each other sleep, the medicine), and a few in flashback (feeding, etc.), but more would have been helpful. And not only in building up their relationship, but also in the lead-up to Mek's kicking Ith out of his room. Even though we previously had a flash of what his step-father did to Mok (and so, in retrospect, surmise that Ith has issues with male-male sex), that rejection just comes so suddenly and on the heels of such steaminess that it's still hard to fathom.

1.1 Regarding speech, I don't know, I'm not sure such sweet speech is logically inconsistent with an officer (though not the norm). Also, there's the sense that Ith felt indebted to Mek for saving his life, which led to this somewhat servile role. And of course, as we find out later, Ith seems to have already fallen for another guy (his police friend), whereas we don't know that for Mek. So Ith is in that way already more comfortable expressing his emotion for Mek than the reverse.

2) I agree Ith's acting was a little weak in places. Pleading would have been appropriate, and when he ran around and found that Mek had left, you'd expect him to just slouch in a corner, beside himself with despair, rather than just stand there. On the other hand, I thought both Mek's and Mok's acting was solid throughout, which had me tearing up on more than one occasion.

3) I also was initially turned off by the plot, but I think in retrospect the problem is more in the sudden twists and juxtapositions in it rather than its content, per se. For one, I didn't think Mek's policy was so unbelievable. It was revealed that his 'policy' was probably a delusion of his own making--an attempt to rationalize the necessity of his 'hits' since his boss probably didn't make a case against each of them (as he says: he never said they were bad guys), though maybe he hinted at their unsavoriness here and there.

3.2 Regarding the bathtub and loofah, it could've been an oversight. But, for all we know Ith might have bought it (being flush with cash) after Mek had trouble washing himself in the bathroom.

3.3 Yes, Ith is always about in his underwear, doing his domestic duties and caring for Mek. I just laughed and enjoyed the beauty of it all. Regarding his walking home in only that, I think all those flashing lights and special effects were supposed to convey how completely down and out he was--so much so that he could've cared less whether passers-by ogled at his underwear.

3.4 Dunno about the face. I'll need to go back and look. I'd thought it was a skin condition being a complication of her disease.

3.5 Re rain, it's the monsoon, no? It was also helpful in evoking what in rasa-theory, they'd call vipralambha-srngara (love in separation). And of course, it made for a steamy reunion.

4) Melodrama, yes. The trope of putting your hand up to another's on glass I thought was fine, and touching. And even the hand to the heart scene in the prison I was happy with. But the rapid fire succession of tragic events in the false-ending made me burst out laughing: alleyway reunion and rejection, AIDS-spreading revelation, a hanging, attempted murder of a husband and the mistaken murder of a pitiful mother--and all in the space of a few minutes on a stormy night with full violins wailing. Even if they'd just spread some of these events out, it might've been OK. As it was, it was so far over the top, even watching it again I can't help but fall over laughing again.

On the other hand, the plot makes a lot of sense in terms of individual motivations (the wife's, Mek's--who is determined to get his family out of Bangkok and can't let even Ith get in the way of that--the desperate little brother, etc.). The events just unfold too suddenly in spots, and with too little support from dialogue that would make it all more believable. Still, Mek's acting in the prison scene in the aftermath of such unintended humor still had me tearing up.

The over-the-top melodrama is a shame because the film has so much going for it, as you mention, the cinematography, a still fairly ground-breaking thai lgbt love story, some good acting, and a lot of beauty.

Anyway, thanks for the review, and for pointing out the film's positives. I've seen so many negative write-ups that I thought I'd finally throw in my 2 (or 20) cents' worth.


dechito said...

Thanks for your detailed comments, Kai. I like your bit on rasa theory. Perhaps I'm being too realistic in approaching this film. I think I should sit back and watch it again, paying less attention to details but more to emotion. I think this must be the intention of the director. :)