Sunday, March 23, 2008

Review: Pid Term Yai Huajai Wawun (Hormones)


  • Directed by Songyos Sugmakanan
  • Starring Charlie Trairat, Michael Sirachuch Chienthaworn, Angsumalin Siraphatsakmetha, Ratchu Surajaras, Chutima Theepanat, Focus Jirakul, Lu Ting Wei, Chanthavit Sunasewee, Thaniya Amaritachote, Sora Aoi
  • Released in Thailand cinemas on March 20, 2008
  • Rating: 4/5

Some surprises are in store in Hormones, not the least of which is the presence of a former Japanese porn star in an orange string bikini.

Though light, fluffy and frivolous, this enjoyable teen romantic comedy produced by GMM Tai Hub is a cut above the usual melodramatic trifles offered by Thai studios, showing a bit of maturity that is sometimes thought provoking.

The second solo feature by Dorm director Songyos Sugmakanan, Hormones is sometimes sexy and funny, innocently cute or heartbreakingly sad, but always lovely to look at. Inspired by Richard Curtis' ensemble romance Love Actually, Songyos weaves together four stories of teen romance during the summer school break:

  • Hyper-competitive in everything, girl-crazy Chiang Mai schoolboys Pu and Mai (Charlie Trairat from Fan Chan and Dorm and Michael Sirachuch Chienthaworn from Dorm) make a summerlong pact to see who will be the first to score the phone number of Nana (Angsumalin Siraphatsakmetha), a former fat girl who went away to Bangkok to study and has returned to Chiang Mai for the summer; she has blossomed into a coy beauty. Their game of one upmanship escalates until the boys risk their friendship.
  • Bespectacled college student Jo (Ratchu Surajaras) plays it cool and creative in an effort to start a serious relationship with one of the most popular girls on campus, Cee (Chutima Theepanat from Seasons Change). Jo has a large library of romance film DVDs (including Love, Actually), alphabetized on labeled shelves. (My thought upon seeing this: "by the power of Grayskull!") A hopeless, pathetic romantic, he exchanges banalities on the telephone with Cee, and tries to woo her with some elaborate cue cards, similar to Bob Dylan's famous "Subterranean Homesick Blues" film clip. A gift of sweet sticky rice in bamboo is refused. The geeky guy is heartbroken.
  • Screaming Bangkok teenybopper Oh Lek (Focus Jeerakul from Fan Chan) is crazy about Taiwanese singer-actor Titee (Lu Ting Wei). Her obsession has alienated her from her schoolmates. Her half of the bedroom she shares with her sister is plastered with Titee photos. A lifesize cardboard cut-out of the singer is the crowning glory. She enrolls in Mandarin lessons in an effort to understand the songs Titee sings, and she comes up with some hilarious translations, involving the singer's mother and her liver.
  • Senior college student Hern (Chanthavit Sunasewee) revels in momentary freedom after his long-time school sweetheart Nual (Thaniya Amaritachote) heads off to Trang to work as an intern at a radio station. Hern is to be reunited with Nual for their anniversary, and is on the train to Trang when he meets an attractive Japanese tourist named Aoi (Sora Aoi), who is heading to the Full Moon Party on Phangan. It doesn't help that Hern has a fetish for Japanese porn.

As the stories weave in and out of each other, the common thread running through them all is a fictional Taiwanese romance film, Remember ... I Love You, starring Titee and playing in local cinemas (never mind that it is screened with a Mandarin soundtrack and Thai subtitles only, which almost never happens -- the Taiwanese films here are usually Thai dubbed or have the soundtrack with both English and Thai subs). This gauzy, melodramatic confection is viewed by each of the "couples".

Like in Love Actually (and in The Love of Siam), the stories culminate on a big holiday, though instead of Christmas, it's the biggest Thai holiday, Songkran, or Thai New Year, on April 13. Heartbreaks, misunderstanding and betrayal all come to a head to the throbbing, guitar-driven beat of Moderndog's "Tar sawang" (ตาสว่าง). (The song was also used in the Final Score soundtrack.)

Instead of being the usual sanitized depiction of Thai culture, concessions are made to contemporize things and make the film a little more realistic. The Bangkok kids hang out at a nightclub and drink Scotch and soda. Jo drinks too much and pukes. References are made to a "hand party" as a friend of Hern hands him a stack of DVDs burned with Japanese porn. Hern and his friends are out drinking in a club, and references are made to visiting the rooms "upstairs" with some women (one of whom is GTH's answer to Frances McDormand, the scene-stealing Panisara Pimpru). The infamous Full Moon Party is visited, and there's sex on a moonlit beach. The Chiang Mai kids are alone together in a karaoke room, though they remain chaste. There's no nudity or smoking or pimples. That would be too much.

And, it would be too much of a departure to stray from the GMM Tai Hub formula that demands all films have neatly tied-up, happy endings. Here, it's to the tune of "Yhang noy" (อย่างน้อย) by the band Big Ass. So the only real surprises are in watching how debauched or morally questionable the characters become.

That said, this is a very well-made film, beautifully lit and craftily edited. I was entertained, rather than annoyed. And it was nostaglic, for once, long ago, I was a teenager who thought the world would end if I didn't get a girlfriend or get laid. And I did a lot of stupid things, and got myself into situations I later regretted. But I don't regret seeing this film.

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

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review. I largely went to see it on the strength of your review was pleasantly surprised although the ending was just a bit too happy. Thinking back 10-15 years ago, it is astonishing how Thai movies have improved.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for your comments, BP. Sickenly sweet happy endings are a trademark of films by Grammy Tai Hub -- even their horror films have them!

    I've not delved much into Thai films of the 1980s and '90s. Those that I have seen were show because they were good, and I understood them to be exceptions. The industry was at a low point back then. What we're seeing now is the result of the resurgence that started with the Thai New Wave that began in 1997 and focused on producing commercially viable, well-made films. Young Thai directors who are influenced and mentored by the New Wave filmmakers are adding even more polish, even if most of the Thai studio films now are increasingly formula driven.

    ReplyDelete

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