Thursday, April 10, 2008

Review: My Talking Dic

  • Directed by Chakkaphan 'Po' Vutthakanok and Zoe Popham
  • Written by Zoe Popham
  • Starring Akara Amarttayakul and Caitlin Haas
  • Reviewed at screening on April 10, 2008, at Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand as part of the Contemporary World Cinema series.
  • Rating: 5/5

Packing more genuine emotion and frustration into a 17-minute short than I've seen in hours of romantic comedies, My Talking Dic deals with the difficulties that arise when couples aren't communicating, or simply can't.

Dysfunction happens even in relationships where both parties speak the same language, but mix it up with different languages and cultural backgrounds, well then you've got a recipe for trouble that requires patience, a cool head and a warm heart. It doesn't always work out so smoothly, though.

Gof Akara and Caitlin Haas portray a young couple watching TV in their Bangkok apartment, trying to settle down for the evening. It's obvious that the Thai comedy show, with the slapstick sound effects, isn't getting Jenny into the mood, but a simple question to her Thai boyfriend Tom about putting in a DVD and finding the remote control turns into a big blow up.

Not long after, a strange box shows up at their doorstep. In it is one of those electronic dictionaries, which are informally called "talking dic" in Thailand. The result of a few presses of the buttons isn't revealed until the next morning, and they are surprising -- putting Akara through the wringer.

"What the fuck," says one of the characters -- a heartfelt summation that works on so many levels, both in the movie, and outside it. I could relate.

It helps that everyone involved with this independent, low-budget production has been through all this. The story is based on the relationship between the British writer-director Zoe Popham and her boyfriend, director Chakkaphan 'Po' Vutthakanok. The lead actor, Akara, was schooled in the US, and no doubt experienced some cultural bumps along the way, though he's so bubbly, smooth and self-assured now that you wouldn't know it. Actress-model Caitlin has lived in Thailand for 17 years and speaks fluent Thai, but she's lived through the frustration her character experienced -- she admits it wasn't much of a stretch for her to play the role.

Nonetheless, when most romantic comedies I've seen forsake dealing with the mechanics of communication for an obligatory music-video montage, and remain superficial, I found My Talking Dic deeply refreshing. Can it translate into a feature? What buttons need to be pushed?

See also:
(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

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