Sunday, September 16, 2007

Review: Bangkok Love Story

  • Written and directed by Poj Arnon
  • Starring Rattanaballang Tohsawat, Chaiwat Tongsang, Weeradit Srimalai,
  • Chatcha Rujinanon
  • Released in Thailand cinemas on September 13, 2007

A shootout in a Buddha factory.

If all I had to do was write that sentence as a means of critical response to Bangkok Love Story, I would be very happy indeed, because then I could move to more enjoyable matters. Unfortunately, there is a bit more to tell about this film, which will likely gain what stature it can in pop culture as the "Thai Brokeback Mountain" or maybe "that gay hitman movie".

Written and directed by Poj Arnon, Bangkok Love Story, or simply Puen (Friend), is the tale of two young guys who weren't looking for love when they first met. Thrown together in odd circumstances, they are sort of dumbstruck at first by lust, and love comes later -- a lot later.

Poj has said he had the idea for the story long before Brokeback Mountain was made into a smash-hit, Oscar-winning film. But since Brokeback, it's lot easier to get a movie like Bangkok Love Story made, and like it or not, comparisons will be drawn.

Bangkok Love Story is about a loner hitman named Mhek (Cloud), played by Rattanaballang Tohsawat, who supports his HIV-positive mother and brother (Mhok, or Fog) with his assassination jobs. His usual hits are simple, walk-by affairs: sneak up, pull the trigger and run away. But for his next assignment, Cloud must kidnap a guy named It (or Stone), played by Chaiwat Tongsang, and bring him to his scar-faced bosses (including Ong-Bak baddie Suchao Pongwilai).

The confrontation with the bosses goes awry, with Cloud declaring he won't kill Stone because Stone's a good guy and Cloud only kills dirtbags. The aforementioned shoot-out in the Buddha factory occurs, with Cloud taking a bullet, Stone picking up Cloud's gun and returning fire, and then the two guys escaping and eventually holing up in Cloud's rooftop hideaway. Stone then digs the bullet out of Cloud's shoulder, and, while wearing nothing but his undershorts, proceeds to give cloud a sponge bath. The two men hide out, usually wearing nothing but their undershorts. They sneakily stare at one another, and finally get it over with in the rain, on the rooftop, as the skytrain whizzes by.

It's unfortunate that Bangkok Love Story has been marketed as Brokeback Mountain was -- as a gay love story. Knowing that walking in, there's no surprise. It's not a matter of will the guys get together, but when, and how, and who will be the Heath Ledger and who will be the Jake Gyllenhaal (Rattaballung and Chaiwat, respectively, more or less, though Chaiwat takes on some of Ledger's character's attributes later). The movie really has no place else to go after that first bit of PG-13 sex, though it does try for a twist at the end to keep things interesting.

The sexual tension gone, Cloud wants nothing more to do with Stone, and much of the rest of the picture is spent with Stone wallowing in tortured pain at not being able to be with Cloud, and the harmonica-playing Cloud slyly hiding from Stone when Stone comes looking for him. Of course there is the issue of Cloud's fiancee, Sai (Sand) who wonders why her husband-to-be isn't the same since he returned from his strange disappearance. One day Stone turns up with a ragdoll he found in Cloud's room, and spends his nights pathetically hugging it, much as a denim jacket was pathetically hugged in Brokeback. At that moment, Sand knows that Stone is lost to her.

Subplots? Well, it wouldn't be a film without one. In Bangkok Love Story, it involves Cloud's brother, Fog (Weeradit Srimalai), who is HIV positive, and is persecuted for his affliction, and gets revenge by working as a hustler. Both boys were sexually abused by their step-father, who infected the mother and Fog with HIV. It's not clear how the story of Fog really fits in film, other than to just be there and make a well-intentioned social statement about the treatment and stigmatisation of AIDS- and HIV-positive people in Thailand.

Chemistry-wise, the pairing of Cloud and Stone never really gels, beyond a couple of make-out scenes in the rain. By the time they really get together emotionally, it's too little, too late. As a supportive big-brother stand-in, Stone and little brother Fog share more tenderness in the friendship department.

Where Bangkok Love Story falls apart with its storytelling, it makes up for in the style department. Bangkok has never looked so beautiful on film, with super-saturated colours, sped-up motion and jumpy editing. The love scenes are in the rain (did I mention that?), which must be symbolic of something or other. Some colourful Siamese fighting fish figure into the story, too, and I have to wonder if the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Siamese Fighting Fish had a say in any of the proceedings.

At one point, the love-tortured, whitey-tighty clad Stone puts a pistol to his head and pulls the trigger on an empty chamber, clicking it over and over. Running on empty. That was one bit of symbolism that was probably appropriate, for a film about love that left me feeling a bit hollow afterward.

(Cross-published at The Nation weblog)

1 comment:

  1. mmmhmmmm....i think it was only Mhok[Fog] who "really" got "abused" by the stepfather. Maek always fought back whenever the old man tried to make his advances. [and eventually killed the bug when he raped Mhok.] remember that scene when Maek was playing his harmonica and the stepfather tried to "do" him? he pushed the man back and struck him with some bulky thing. (could it be a dos-por-dos?) and come to think of it, if Maek was "hmmmhmmmed" by the stepfather, wouldn't he be HIV-positive too??? hnnnnn???? ;D

    the gun scene. i couldn't understand why the gun was blurred. is it because of the suicidal content? ah, that was a very good scene. the deleted bedscene, yes there was a bedscene, was totally hot, but [juz my opinion] it might have been better if Maek was the uke and Iht the seme. oh, come on, Maek was the hard-to-get one, righht? so basically, he should be the one underneath. aww. ;)

    i haven't watched brokeback mountain yet though it's very famous and watched in my country so it's kinda hard to compare juz by the trailer. but the rag doll scene which was the same as a denim jacket scene made me grin. yay.

    peace~

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