Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review: Samchuk

  • Directed by Thanit Jitnukul
  • Starring Poramet Noi-um, Teerapat Yamsri
  • Released in Thai cinemas on August 5, 2009
  • Rating: 3/5

The teenage drugs drama Samchuk (สามชุก) begins pleasantly, as director Thanit Jitnukl lovingly sets the stage with gauzy images of the rice paddies, mist-covered canals, the colorful market and other idyllic scenes of rural small-town life. The storytelling and character sketches are breezy and enjoyable to start with. However, the euphoria wears off, and gives way to heavy-handed melodrama that drags on. But it's still a solid effort that means well.

Set in the central Thailand market district of Samchuk, and based on actual events, this is the story of seven teenage schoolboys who became hooked on drugs, but had a teacher who was determined to see them kick the habit.

It begins with the boys headed off to buy some pills, but find their dealer is being raided by the police and they are chased. They hide in the schoolyard, which does not go unnoticed by teacher Pinij (Poramet Noi-um). He makes a deal with the boys -- that they tell him everything and he won't go to the cops.

The boys' leader is Wan (Teerapat Yamsri). He got into drugs because he lives on a small farm with his single-mother who owes the village's mean and impatient moneylender -- every Thai movie set in a rural village has this character. So Wan is working from morning until night to help his dear sainted mother pay off that awful woman. He works on the garbage truck, fixes motorcycles at the garage, hauls in a catch of fish and serves noodles at a streetside stand. Along with going to school, it's too much for Wan, and the dyed-hair tattooed slurring ex-con co-worker at the motorcycle shop sees this. Soon Wan is smoking pills he's getting from the guy.

And Wan's friends follow. They come from all social classes in the town. There's the kid who's even poorer than Wan, who has no parents and lives in a tin shack with his slutty sister. He takes drugs to escape from that. A third takes drugs just to support the first two guys and be a good friend. The son of an aspiring politician and farm-supply store owner gets high to relieve the pressure his demanding dad is putting on him. Another has problems with his drunk, wife-beating father. And yet another gets high because a cute girl won't give him the time of day.

They all have their reasons. And though some of those reasons might seem inconsequential in the bigger scheme of life, teacher Pinij understands that to those teenage boys, the problems seem insurmountable.

Pinij makes a deal with the kids -- that they come clean, to their parents and to the community -- and he'll help them.

Along having the boys take morning jogs and turn in a daily dairy, Pinij tries to have them grow roses -- a tried and true method of recovery. But the plants stubbornly refuse to take hold, and for the longest time, the little garden plot is nothing but withered stems.

The scheme doesn't work quite as well as Pinij envisioned. The shame the boys and their parents face from other members of the community is the biggest factor. More pressure is put on the kids, and they turn to drugs again and again, despite having to go through withdrawal and seeing the damage that's being done.

The turning point comes -- ever so melodramatically -- in the pouring rain. The boys have gone back to the pills yet again, and had a drug-taking session to end all drug-taking sessions. Ajarn Pinij comes running and again tries to fix things, again crossing the line of being an enabler and heading down the slippery slope of co-dependence.

Did it really happen just like that? Well, no matter. It all looks good.

What's inspiring is Teacher Pinij's dedication and commitment. At one point, a father is arguing with the teacher, and asks the teacher why he's bothering with the kids and basically to mind his own business.

"He's my son," says the dad.

"And he's my student," says Pinij.

Samchuk has troubling mixed messages about alcohol. While the father of one of the boys is getting drunk on rice whisky and portrayed negativily, Ajarn Pinij himself is seen on one occasion enjoying a beer as he winds down after a hard day of trying to get the boys to kick amphetamines. Another time Pinij is knocking back shots of white liquor that the school's janitor is pouring him after the seven boys return to drugs once again. Is the movie saying one kind of drinking is bad, but liquor used in moderation is okay? Marijuana isn't touched, but what about it?

But it's clear that speed pills are bad. Very bad. Don't take drugs. Just watch movies.

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