Sunday, January 16, 2005

BKKIFF 2005 review: Her Name is Boonrawd

  • Directed by Vichet Kounavudhi
  • Starring Linda Bancharoen
  • Originally released in Thailand in 1985; reviewed at the 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival as part of the Vichet Kounavudhi Tribute
  • Rating: 3/5

Set in Thailand during the Vietnam War era, Boonrawd (Linda Bancharoen) is a young woman living on the fringes of the prostitution scene outside an air base used by US Air Force troops stationed in Thailand.

The film opens with her enduring long hours and hard work washing dishes. Then one night her boss appears beside her bed. He takes off his Buddha amulet, prays to it and lifts the mosquito net. Boonrawd awakens but can't stop him. The two roll around under the netting and Boonrawd is left dishevelled, nauseated and emotionally scarred. The mere mention of her boss' name makes her vomit.

She runs off. A local teacher takes Boonrawd back to her home, where Boonrawd works as a maid. She gets a few baht in her pocket and goes home to the rural northeast to visit her mother. There, her lottery-addicted mother wonders why more money can't be sent. The right numbers just aren't coming up in the spots on the gecko's back. The water buffalo has run off. The farm is in debt to its landlord. There has been a drought for two years. Sister has shown up with a half-African-American (negro is the term used in this film), half-Thai baby. And she's planning on going back to the airbase and leaving the baby behind for mom to take care of.

Despite the hardships, Boonrawd refuses to go the way of her sister. She returns to her maid's job at the teacher's home. She has fallen in love with the maid's son. She gets her hair permed in the popular style of the time and wears bright-colored clothes to call attention to herself. But nothing develops. Then the teacher informs Boonrawd that she and her family have to move to Bangkok. She offers Boonrawd a job making dresses, but it will be hard work and she recognizes Boonrawd is more ambitious. Boonrawd wants her family to stand on its own. She has brought her brother to live with her and has found him work.

So she ends up having to move near the airbase at U-Tapao and starts work in a restaurant. There she is confronted by soldiers who think she's a prostitute. Aren't all Thai girls prostitutes? Even other Thais who work around the base think she's a prostitute, from the way she looks, dresses and acts. But she's not and she doesn't.

However, she strikes up a friendship with an Air Force officer, a guy who speaks fluent Thai. He likes her style, but they only remain friends. The officer goes to other girls for his pressure release. Gradually, though, Boonrawd develops feelings for the guy, which sets her up in a shrill confrontation with the alpha of the prostitute dog pack.

While delving into the Vietnam War's effect on Thailand, Her Name is Boonrawd, is overly long, too melodramatic and somewhat stale. It displays decent production values, but still had a low budget. There was little attention to anachronisms, such as the presence of vehicles newer than the 1970s and newer clothing and hairstyles on some of the extras (a Carabao T-shirt was spotted). Also, some of the "American" soldiers spoke with Aussie or Brit accents. And I don't know about some of the military materiel, whether the jets and bombs shown were the types used in the Vietnam War. I suspect not.

The scenes involving the top-dog prostitute were really annoying, as the actress overplayed her part and screamed her lines. Hmph!

But the actress portraying Boonrawd was solid all the way through. As the movie went on (and on and on and on - it was definitely more than the 104 minutes listed in the film catalog, more like 2 hours, 15 minutes), I began to appreciate her more and more.

( Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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