04 November 2009


Somehow it's not difficult to see why a lot of people just fall in love with this film, with its candyfloss landscape and a bright, optimistic girl who speaks her mind. Of course, for some, Juno is a rude girl growing up in pretty liberal contemporary American surroundings. Yet, her frankness is somehow sweet and portrayed as more likable than others who are simply superficially nice.

Being raised in such a liberal family, however, can also have a drawback, as Juno is pregnant while she's still 16 years old with her friend Bleeker. Juno decides to keep her baby as she realises that already by two months in her pregnancy it may have developed fingernails. We can only surmise how hard it must be for her to reveal her bulging stomach to all her friends at school and triumph over prevailing prejudices against teenage pregnancy. She then makes a decision to find adoptive parents and manage to find a lovely perfect couple, Mark and Vanessa Loring, whose middle-class background and lifestyle is foreign to hers.

What we see here is Juno's imagination of this 'perfect world', where her baby shall one day be part of. Her dream of Mark and Vanessa as the perfect parents is shattered when she realises that Mark can no longer live in that 'perfect' world of conservative beige wallpaper and a pilate machine. He decides to pursue his own dream of being a more radical musician who can do whatever he wants. It is, however inadvertently, Juno who is the one who teaches him to follow this dream. When she realises that this 'perfect' couple is breaking up, Juno is shocked as she is smitten with the loss of faith in humanity. Her father jumps to a rescue, as he teaches her to love someone who loves her for who she really is. That's when she decides to confess her love to Bleeker, this time disillusioned with the 'perfect' middle-class world and discovering that her own place and situation is already the best there is to have.

Even though the film touches on such a sensitive topic as teenage pregnancy, it is somehow pretty optimistic in showing that Juno's condition is pretty well accepted and tolerated by her friends and family. Whether this can happen in reality remains a moot topic, but I think Juno is still very lucky and still needs more stringent measures to wake her up to the crude reality of the real world. Somehow I just wonder what it would be like if Lars von Trier had directed the second part of the film.

But my point is this: perhaps Juno should be applauded for her strength in withstanding all the prejudices in her decision to keep the baby, but another person who deserves praise is Vanessa, who decides to have the baby even though she no longer has Mark by her side. Like Juno, she is determined to have what she wants. If Juno finally has Bleeker, Vanessa has her baby. Their journey somehow runs in parallel.

But that's where the happy ending ends and the nightmare begins. While Juno is still deeply in love with Bleeker, Vanessa is disillusioned with marriage life. It is, therefore, understandable that she will channel her love for Mark to that of the baby and who knows whether the baby will grow up to be a depressed nutcase raised in porcelain surroundings. Whether that will happen we need to wait and see ...

02 November 2009

Bangkok Traffic Love Story | รถไฟฟ้า ... มาหานะเธอ

I have the feeling that if I say something negative about this film, I will be badly treated by my friends and my students. But after a period of long reflection, it's time I said something about Bangkok Traffic Love Story. A lot of Thai audience seems to love it, judging from the number of queries and comments appearing on the Pantip webboard. There's actually at least one group of people who went around Bangkok to search for real locations in the film. A lot of white collar workers in their 30s just love this film, as it somehow fills in the gap of contemporary Thai films, where either senseless (romantic) comedies or ghost films seem to be the only choices Thai viewers have.

Perhaps the other reason why this film is so popular is because it is so rooted in contemporary Thai urban scenes, with the leading appearance of BTS skytrains. An increasing number of Bangkok dwellers choose this channel to commute everyday as it is definitely faster. Besides, the trains themselves are also the "meat market" where people of similar class and ideology can meet -- the so-called new urban middle class. However, it remains to be seen whether real romantic encounters can actually happen when a lot of commuters just choose to listen to their MPs or stare at inane and loud TV commercials rather than to chat up with someone they like, but it can't be denied that what happens in the film is actually the fantasy of many people.

It is also obvious that the film is targeted for women viewers, as we see the character of Mei Li develops in a significant way at the expense of Lung, starring Ken Theeradej, whose personality is reduced to a life-size cardboard able to flash a killer's smile whenever needed. We see how Mei Li develops from an independent career woman to a dependent girl in desperate love with Lung. However, the ending starts to see some light when Mei Li is able to jettison Lung's love as he's leaving for Germany. However, my dream of her strength and independence is shattered once Lung is back and surprises her with his god-like trick of making the skytrain stop halfway and turning everyone on board into a mobile phone freak.

Of course, one can easily say that the film is in league with patriarchal codes, with women always in search for their dream men. But this one is slightly better, as it shows Mei Li's attempt to put herself in the man's life quite actively. We learn that women finally are able to fight back to get what they want. But writing along this line, I start to wonder: but isn't it still "a man" they're fighting for. Maybe this is still patriarchy in another guise. And somehow we just don't question this anymore.

Blue Gate Crossing

Blue Gate Crossing is a beautiful Taiwanese film launched in 2002, detailing the lives of teenagers confused in love and sexuality. Directed by Yee Chin-yen, the film is hauntingly minimalist, with only three or four main characters. Yet, through its well-organized plot and subtle dialogue, the viewer is left with indescribable happiness and melancholy once the film finishes.

Even though the plot is somehow quite simple with Zhang Shihao, a handsome boy falling in love with Meng Kerou, a plain looking girl, it doesn't mean forever love and melodramatic happy ending in this film. What is interesting is that, with such a popular boy choosing to love her, Kerou is just confused and chooses to listen to her heart rather than the expectation of people around her. She wants to know whether her secret liking for a close friend, Lin Yuezhen, may be part of her homosexual tendency. With this, we start to see how complexed and realistic the film is, as Merou is in the process of growth and realizes that life may not be what it seems in cheesy teenager films. Her coming of age tale is at once painful yet liberatory: she needs to confront social prejudices but at the same time learns that she finally has a choice to grow up to be what she truly is, independent of social expectations.

However, the film does show some problems. She cannot talk about her confusion to anyone apart from Shihao and Yuezhen, the latter of whom is apparently shocked and completely ignores her advance. Shihao, however, tries to make sense of this gender confusion and learns to give her some needed space. Yet, it remains to be seen whether Merou can open up her heart to her family, especially her mom, who is also beside her.

All in all, I think the film is painful and beautiful at the same time. Perhaps it's high time Thai teenage films followed this less trodden path.