Friday, February 24, 2006

Review: Dek hor (Dorm)

  • Directed by Songyos Sukmakanan
  • Starring Charlie Trairat, Jintara Sukapat, Sutthipong Thadpitakkul, Nipawan Thaweepornsawan
  • Wide theatrical release in Thailand on February 23, 2006
  • Rating: 4/5

For a film about a bunch of boys at a junior high boarding school, this sure is a mature thriller.

It's yet another film I'm at great pains to review and praise, yet I want to be careful about giving too much away. At the same time, I feel I need to point out right away that the trailers do a massive disservice to this film, making it out like it's yet another Asian horror flick with creepy little kids, and Dorm is the furthest thing from it. In the end, it's a life-affirming, feel-good film that left me a bit wistful about boyhood, much in the same way that Fan Chan left me feeling.

It's no coincidence then, that the director of Dorm is Songyos Sukmakanan, the second of the six directors of Fan Chan after Dear Dakanda's Komgrit Treewimol to strike out on his own. His solo debut is beautiful, assured and a breeze to watch.

It embraces the full range of emotions - humor, sadness, stress, anger, resentment, revenge - and does it pretty well.

Okay, what's the story? Fan Chan's Charlie Trairat heads up an excellent young cast of boys (Chaleumpol Tikumpornteerawong - Jack from Fan Chan makes a small, hilarious appearance). Charlie is Chatree, or Ton, as he's sometimes called, and he's been sent away by his strict father to a boy's boarding school. We're not sure why at first, but it's clearn that Chatree is pretty upset by his dad's decision to send him away.

The boarding school has a decayed, prison-like, institutational feel to it. Chatree's dorm features one big room filled with hundreds of little-boy sized steel-framed beds. In the morning, they all have to bathe by sloshing water over their bodies, scooped out of tile-lined troughs with little plastic bowls. They wear swimming trunks during this bathing period, and the trunks and towels are hung up on rods. Chatree struggles to find a space on the rods to dry his stuff.

Dinner's promptly at six, and the dorm mother, Ajarn Pranee (Jintara Sukapat), sternly tells him he'd better not be late.

At bedtime, in the dorm room, an eccentric crew of gangly looking boys, who have been spying Chatree all day and plotting ways to humiliate him, tell Chatree all the ghost stories about the place, including the story of why the school's swimming pool is drained and fenced off, and how that episode made Teacher Pranee "weird" - she sits in her office sometimes with a weepy love song on the record player, skipping over and over while she looks into an open drawer. "What the hell's in that drawer that makes her so sad?" one of the boys asks.

Eventually, all is explained, with the help of a mysterious student who appears out of nowhere to befriend Chatree and offer him advice on how to dry his clothes and other things, including a field trip outside the school to catch a look at the school cook's cute daughter, who is the hottest drum majorette ever in the history of the world.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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