29 November 2008

Sunflower ดอกไม้ในแสงแดด

For those regular theatre-goers, the name of Nopphan Boonyai has been established as one of the most interesting new-wave directors. Sunflower, one of his most popular plays, became the talk of the town when it was first launched at the Crescent Moon Theatre at the beginning of this year. Due to popular demand, it is currently being restaged at the same venue until December 7.

There are just three characters in this play but the number should not blind us to the dynamic that their interaction creates. Nop is a good-looking guy who is simply unable to be committed in a relationship. Orn is a confident woman who falls in love with a photographer who is already married. Tawan works as a 'love doctor' giving comments to those people who have problems about love. However, he himself doesn't fare any better, waiting for his partner, a real doctor, who will never return.

The influence of Wong Kar Wai reinforces the themes of love, loneliness, and urban angst. It's like these three characters just come fresh out of Chungking Express, lost and yearning at the same time. The motifs of a mysterious woman with a golden wig, pineapple cans, and the bird without legs are present in order to bring home such feelings as unrequirted love and desire with no definite directions. In other words, it may be said that these characters resemble us in the modern days, afflicted with yearning and desire, and the conditions are worsened by the fact that our desire is not fulfilled or once it's fulfilled we are not satisfied and want to move on.

Perhaps, quite accurately, the play portrays our long-lasting problem with desire. On the one hand, we desire something we don't have, can't have, or no longer have, such as Nop who remains scarred by his first love, Orn who desperately wants the photographer's love, and Tawan who injures himself simply as a pretext to see his estranged boyfriend. On the other hand, we don't desire something we already have and unconsciously try to reject this state of bliss so that we can desire once more. This, perhaps, may be caused by boredom and the contemporary way of life that requires us to obtain the newest, the latest, and the most modern. This lifestyle pushes us to fly higher and higher, until we forget it feels like to stay on ground.

But the play doesn't choose to portray only the negative side of these dire conditions. Even though the three characters have their own spaces in each corner of the stage, there're always three stools at the centre waiting for them to return, to chat, to communicate, to make pretense, to show off, or simply to tell stories. This interaction is equated with the sense of friendship these three people have. Perhaps friends are, of course, vital and their presence is needed, even though we all know that deep down we have our own space where friends will not, or cannot, intrude. Perhaps this is all there is ... Perhaps this is all we can have.

27 November 2008

The Fall

Spoilers alert ...

The Fall is a feel-good surreal film. If you've watched Hero by Zhang Yimou and have been astonished by its visual fantasy, you will not be disappointed watching this film. Directed by Tarsem Singh, the film portrays the psychological connections between the two protagonists, a little girl and a bed-ridden stunt man. The latter is suicidal and, like Scheherazade, tells stories to the young girl to get her to do what he wants.

The stories that he tells bear resemblance to his surroundings, despite their settings in the time and place so remote from his own. Of course, one may say that when you tell the story, you can't avoid putting yourself in the story. There's no such thing as impersonality or objectivity in story-making and story-telling. The film makes a good case for this and shows that there's a process of redemption and recovery in story-telling too.

I personally find the essence of the film quite similar to Stranger than Fiction, which I've just watched. What these two films are identical is the way they have faith in the narrator, especially in how this narrating figure can change the turn of the story. These two films make a case against the belief that we're somehow controlled by the stories we make for ourselves and put a positive twist, a rather existentialist one at that, that we human are capable of making a decision and thus bringing about a good change.

Perhaps this spirit is in the air at the moment as we see more and more people gathering and standing firm for what they believe, be it in the US where people voted for Barack Obama, having a total faith that this new voice can bring about a positive 'change', or in Thailand when 'yellow' people gathered at the Government House and then at Suvannabhumi Airport or 'red' people at Rachamangala Stadium, all believing that their presence would bring about change.

Returning to the film, the spirit of change can be seen in the end when the stunt man agrees to change the ending to please the girl. But what I think is the drawback of this film is how little we're convinced by it. I don't personally believe that the begging of the little girl is enough to make a suicidal man change his mind. There should've been something else that triggers his reconsideration -- an epiphany perhaps. Yet, this decision to change the ending -- not to let him be killed in the end -- is pretty elegant on its own, as it may be related to the fact that we're indeed all connected and our stories, though highly individualistic, may inspire others or make them feel despair. The stories, once told, are no longer ours. Once they enter the public realm, they belong to the world, enriching it so.

The Message ลิขิตนาคา

While Thai politics is anything but stable, it's understandable that a growing number of people resort to escape from this stalemate and put their interest in something else altogether. Hence, I didn't spurn the opportunity when a ticket to watch The Message, a contemporary li-kay performance, was offered to me. Do I need to tell you that I rarely frequent a traditional Thai performance, let alone the li-kay, the narrative of which I found too predictable and lengthy.

Of course that perception has changed since I watched The Message or Likhit Naga in Thai the other evening at Lido Multiplex. The show was led by the Silpathorn winner Pradit Prasartthong, whose dance was obviously majestic. Part of the lyrics were made more up-to-date and with the use of such visual aid as the LCD projector the show was anything but obsolete. However, the traditional elements of li-kay remain, including improvisation, bling-bling costumes, and plots concerning divine or semi-divine entities.

The story involves a sojourn on earth by an underworld god -- a Naga called Malan. However, little does he know that his trip will endanger his life, as people on earth are ready to exploit him for various gains, including tourism and commerce. Of course, the ending is quite predictable with Malan getting angry wishing to castigate the earthlings by creating a big flood. Even though this plot sounds all too predictable for those regular li-kay watchers, one can't deny that it's also timeless and pretty much relevant to what's happening in Thailand at present. I only wish more people would turn up to watch this and learn something from it.

The performance is part of Bangkok Theatre Festival 2008. More details can be found here.

16 November 2008

The Orphanage

The Orphanage is a subtle horror film, which gradually creates tension in viewers until the point where the climax sublimely flourishes. However, those viewers who want quick, dramatic ghostly appearances that scare their socks off might be disappointed. But those who want a rather slow-pacing horror-cum-detective fiction will definitely like it.

This is not just a horror flick that aims to make viewers guess what's happening, it's also a stylish film, too. However, one sometimes wonders why the samaritan couple would wish to live in such a big house. Of course I understand that the protagonist Laura wants to remake the house, which was once the orphanage where she grew up, and turn it into her little paradise where she and her husband can form their own team of adopted children. (This sounds pretty much like Madonna and Angelina Jolie, but this trend has yet to catch up in Thailand.) Her samaritanism is on the verge of madness, as if it were motivated by her own guilt to survive and prosper after life in the orphanage. Her friends there, by contrast, disappeared without a trace.

The more she wanders around the house, trying to refurbish it, Laura gradually discovers a series of shocking truths. Needless to say, it also involves her only adopted son Simon, who keeps talking and playing with his imaginary friends. The director did a great job in making us feel not only horrified by the whole past incidents but sympathise with Laura in shouldering all these responsibilities.

However, if there's going to be a drawback, it's how little we know about Laura and what is the cause of her good will. Surely she had been brought up in the orphanage, but we're given too few details why she chooses to come back. Maybe I didn't watch it properly, but I couldn't help but feeling that the film would've been even better had the director provided more clues or played upon the issue of Laura's guilt.

Stranger than Fiction

Directed by Marc Foster, Stranger than Fiction is of course a film about fiction. Will Ferrell, playing Harold Crick, is pretty tamed in this film, not unlike Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. The plot is simple: Crick discovers that he's a character in an unfinished novel by an author who is renowned for her "ability" to kill characters. Of course, Crick is scared and tries every possible way to stop the author Karen Eiffel from killing him.

In the course of the film, the characters gradually develop. Crick has grown from a cold, indifferent IRS agent to a sensitive person who manages to understand the author and even let her kill him. Ana Pascal, a baker with whom he falls in love, also gradually learns to love the man for what he really is, despite her first impression of him as a cruel tax man. However, most touching of all is the development of Eiffel who begins to understand how her 'fiction' has intertwined with reality and the implications of what she's been doing. I'm not going to reveal the ending but suffice to say that Eiffel's decision at the end is a moment of understanding that's truly beautiful.

In my humble opinion, Stranger than Fiction is not just a film that aims to showcase the scriptwriter's intelligence and wit, but it also gives an insight into how to lead one's life and how magic always happens. This film may be a banal cliche for some, but for me it's really touchingly heroic. Not heroic in the sense of a knight in the shining armour saving the life of a princess, but heroic in the way an ordinary person can be.

Perhaps in the world that is getting more and more complicated, this film teaches us that stoicism is still a good option to stick to and God may perhaps be kind and let you live. That's all I can say, otherwise there'll be spoilers alert.

Coming Soon โปรแกรมหน้า วิญญาณอาฆาต

Coming Soon is a new horror film by GTH. Fun to watch, the film is based on a rather postmodern premise -- what if the ghost on the film comes out to haunt viewers. This play with the levels of reality is by no means new, as we have seen what Deconstructing Harry and Tristam Shandy have earlier made progress in this line of development. However, what is rather innovative in this film is the impact it has made on the viewer, as the viewer is quite accurately portrayed as voyeurs seeking pleasure and thrill without regarding carefully whence their joy may have derived.

I need to confess that when I was watching the film, my viewing experience somewhat changed: it was pretty scary to see they film the actual cinema whilst you know that the ghost was lurking somewhere. I couldn't help but relate that to my actual viewing as we were watching the film around 8pm in a rather empty cinema. But of course, deadened as my senses are, my fright disappeared five minutes after the film finished.

In fact, when we come to think about it, Coming Soon is less scary than The Shutter. I believe the reason is that it's simply too predictable. Somehow I realised half-way through the film what the ending was going to be like and I could guess when the ghost was about to appear. There's only one scene that scared me -- that's when the protagonist was talking to his friend, and suddenly his friend's face changed to the ghost's. So I guess that's the way forward: try to scare the viewer by not giving the clue what's going to happen. Also, try not to use any music to lead the viewer's feeling, as the viewer is pretty sophisticated and can sometimes guess (automatically) when the ghost is going to appear simply by guessing when the climax of the music will be.

However, if you don't expect some ingenious twists, this film still delivers some thrill. And if you like clever films that turn you into an idiot, this film may be good for you. This is because it touches on the issue of viewing as voyeurism: filmmakers and viewers are portrayed as irresponsible people who care about nothing but self-interest. While filmmakers want to make good films that earn them a lot of money, viewers are selfish and think of nothing but pure enjoyment and cheap thrills. Of course most horror viewers fall into this category and those who go to watch Coming Soon are not excluded.

Now the question remains: why do you pay money just to be insulted? Or are there so fewer tricks to frighten us now that the filmmaker needs to make us their victims? I bet in the near future they should make the film when the viewers themselves are turned into ghosts to haunt the director. That'd be fun and more flattering to us.