Thursday, February 21, 2008

Review: Handle Me With Care (Kod)


  • Written and directed by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee
  • Starring Kiatkamol Latha, Supaksorn Chaimongkol
  • Released in Thailand cinemas on February 21, 2008
  • Rating: 4/5

What is the sound of three hands clapping? Well, it might sound a little discordant. It might sound a little like Handle Me With Care.

The story of a three-armed man and his relationship with a large-breasted woman, Handle Me With Care starts off swinging all three of those arms, with a powerful, yet wryly funny beginning and ample folksy humor.

By the time the second act is nursed along, the momentum of the swings has slackened, the jokes less impactful. The third act loses its punch entirely, though it ends satisfyingly sweet and sentimentally, because, after all, this is a GTH film, and they all must have happy endings.

Handle Me With Care, or Kod (literally Hug), stars singer Kiatkamol Latha, or Tui AF3 from the Academy Fantasia talent-search TV series, in his first feature role. He plays the three-armed man. Curvy actress Supaksorn "Kratae" Chaimongkol is cast in a role where she gets to make some self-effacing jokes about her busty appearance, and stretch her dramatic and comedic chops with understated subtlety.

The film is written and directed by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, who's better known for his work as a hired-gun screenwriter for a variety of films, from the weepy romance The Letter and the comic-book adaptation Noo Hin: The Movie to the Tony Jaa missing-elephant martial arts caper, Tom Yum Goong and Nonzee Nimibutr's upcoming historical fantasy, Queen of Langkasuka. His previous directorial effort, 2005's Midnight My Love (Cherm) was also a sweet romance (between a taciturn taxi driver played by Mum Jokmok and a soapy massage girl portrayed by Woranut Wongsuwan), but it lept wildly off its rails in the second half, and took an intriguing dark, surreal turn.

Produced by Grammy Tai Hub, Handle Me Care is kept more firmly on the line, so that it fits in the "feel good" GTH formula.

Still, Kongdej manages to explore the seedy side of Thai culture, featuring a hairy-derriered would-be rapist cop, and a bus driver who flees the scene because of his gambling debts.

And, the film has some things to say about how we perceive other people and judge their appearances, condemning them if they look like freaks, or assume a woman is easy because she has large breasts.

Tui portrays Kwan, a guy with two left arms who views his extra appendage as an encumbrance. Though it makes it easy for him to hang up the laundry on windy days, zip his luggage shut and earns him Employee of the Month at the post office, where he sorts letters, Kwan is glum. He is unlucky in love, having been dumped by his popular and pretty high-school sweetheart, and now by his horse-faced co-worker. His doting mother is long since dead, and now the tailor who makes his three-armed shirts has choked to death (in a hilariously sad opening scene that establishes the small northern city of Lampang's idyllic setting). Kwan is tired of people around Lampang always staring and talking about him. Not having access to any more tailored shirts is the last straw.

Kwan decides to head to Bangkok, where a hospital has offered to cut his arm off for free, in the name of medical research.

He's not even a block from home when his old car breaks down, and he is offered a ride to the capital on a garishly painted bus by his friend, the gambling-addicted Lorlee. It is at a stop along the way that Kwan and Lorlee notice a young woman fighting off a man. They come to her aid, and then all three turn on her assailant, kicking him and gouging him, only to find out he's cop. They run away, but not before the resourceful woman, Na, uses her beloved cellphone to snap a photo of the cop's untrousered lower regions.

More trouble awaits down the road at a gambling den. In a daring, dramatic escape from some hoodlums, Kwan holds on to the fleeing bus with one hand and reaches out with his two others to grab Na, who is running to catch the bus. But the chivalrous act is soon dashed when Kwan and Na are left without money or a ride to Bangkok. Na is able to easily flag down a ride for the pair once the driver gets a peek at her melons down the neck of her T-shirt. Kwan and Na strike up an easygoing relationship as they suffer through one setback after another. But Kwan, his heart already broken, is wary of Na, who has said she's going to Bangkok to track down her estranged husband, who ran off to join a magician's troupe.

The most striking thing about the film is the effect of Kwan's third arm. It's all done with camera angles and perspective. Another actor is credited with "hand talent", and what one hell of a job he's done, especially in the scenes that require intricate manipulations, such as sorting postcards, hanging laundry or rescuing a toddler, a cat and a dog - all at the same time - from being flattened by a speeding car. Kudos also to the casting director, for finding a left hand that looks just like Tui's.


More information:
(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

3 comments:

  1. Maybe spoiler.


    Even it still has some 'feel-good' things in this GTH one, but I think this is the most 'pessimistic' film of GTH too far. (Include Body #19)

    I really like the English title, Handle Me With Care, a lot. This is one of the brightest English title for Thai movie I've ever seen.

    It's really touching me that everybody is 'fragile' and need a 'handle with care', but nowadays people don't care about this point any more, somebody aren't just handle it without care, but drop it repeatedly and intentionally.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nanoguy, thanks for your comments.

    I feel like there's some of the old-time, Chatrichalerm-style social commentary going on in this film, which makes it refreshing. There's not enough of that in today's films, which are mainly only about entertainment.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really agree with you. Anyway, I haven't seen much of Chatrichalerm's old works (even it has some DVDs in Mangpong.)

    I just chatted with Filmsick (who's very love this film) and he expressed me about many political issues that was hidden in the movie as tons of symbol.

    Maybe I've to go for it again soon (before some of Cafe-joke blockbusters will come to the cinemas.)

    ReplyDelete

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