Saturday, April 17, 2010

Review: Big Boy

  • Directed by Monthon Arayangkoon
  • Starring Toni Rakkaen, Setha Sirachaya, Rattanarat Eertaweekul
  • Released in Thai cinemas on April 6, 2010; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Breakin' meets Strictly Ballroom in Big Boy (บิ๊กบอย), a mostly energetic and slick look at the Thai b-boy scene.

Toni Rakkaen, the Australian-schooled former hairdresser son of morlam singer Banyen Rakkaen, stars as a Chiang Mai rich kid who never found an interest to hold him for long. But after seeing breakdancers in front of Tae Pae Gate and making an attempt to moonwalk and show off for his girlfriend, the teenager Po becomes obsessed with breakdancing. He sees a video on YouTube of Bangkok b-boys and suddenly decides he wants to go to the capital to visit his grandfather, who he hasn't seen since he was perhaps four years old.

Granddad, played by veteran entertainer Setha Sirachaya, is an old smoothie with the charm of Lando Calrissian. When the sportscar-driving senior meets his grandson at the airport, he's waiting out front by his car, with a bevy of red-clad Thai AirAsia flight attendants gathered around, and he introduces the kid as his younger brother.

After a race back to the hyper-competitive granddad's swinging architectural wonder of a bachelor pad and a break to have granddad beat the grandson in video games and swimming, the pair then head to Bangkok's city center to hunt for breakdancers. They find them, including the flashy male dancer who caught Po's eye in the YouTube video. He dials the phone number included with the video's description but it's answered by a young woman (Rattanarat Eertaweekul). Eventually the two come face to face. It was the woman New who posted the video, and it is she who gives the breakdancing lessons, not the show-off guy.

Po isn't interested in being taught by a girl, because it'll cramp his style. He attempts to ask Mr. Show-Off to give him lessons, which immediately eliminates any street cred he might have had. That isn't how it works, Po's told. Rich kids can't just buy the mad skillz they need to be b-boys.

Po tries to dance anyway, and is pushed out of the circle. Then granddad gets in on the action, and immediately he's moonwalking, popping, locking and spinning around on the ground. Po is shown up by an old man, who, as it turns out, was the tango king of Thailand in his youth.

Pushed by his grandfather, Po's only alternative is to humble himself and ask for the girl New's help.

And so begins the training montage, set in a dusty old ballroom dance club that granddad used to frequent in his dancing days. Along with honing his body -- Toni's fans will be disappointed to see only brief shirtlessness -- Po starts to fall for the pixie-like New.

The second feature from new production house M39 Pictures, Big Boy is directed by Monthon Arayangkoon, who shifts away from the kaiju thrills of 2004's Garuda (Paksa Wayu) and the horror of The Victim and The House. Monthon co-wrote the story with producer Leo Kittikorn and co-scripted the screenplay with go-to scribe Kongdej Jaturanrasamee.

The story's arc wavers, beginning with an ending and then flashing back to show how the characters got there. It hits slow spots here and there. The girl New is forgotten about for a time, after a twist reveals where she practices her dance moves. It's treated as something more shameful than it ought to be as the story skitters to cover a bit of social-class commentary.

The dark side of the b-boy scene, involving gangsta drug dealers and an underground rave club, offers a chance for a bit of action and even a car chase through the suspiciously uncongested streets of Siam Square (must have been filmed around 3 or 4am).

It also delves into the grandfather's melancholy side, something having to do with an old dance record and baile amour ... baile allegra, in attempts to reveal why he and his grandson became estranged, due to the death of the grandmother.

There are even a few laughs involving the comic-relief trio of a non-Thai-speaking b-boy king named LeRoy (Roy McCoy) and his sidekicks who mistranslate everything he says, so "you're cool" becomes "you're cold."

Breakdance sequences are a highlight, even if its dance-doubles doing the acrobatic floor work for Toni and Setha.

Bangkok shines, as the story takes in such locations as Siam Square's art-deco Scala Theatre, where the first big dance face-off takes place, as well as actual b-boy haunts, such as the MBK skywalk and on a piece of linoleum down by the river.

Another neat scene is a tap-off in which Setha's drunk granddad dances to the improvised beats of a car alarm, echoing in a parking garage.

There's even a breakdancing sequence -- for fun, not a battle -- on Bangkok's MRT subway train. The filmmakers make sure to include a bit where a security guard waggles his finger and says, "nice dancing kid, but we don't allow it on the trains", just to make sure the MRT's legal hind parts are covered.

Who knows, maybe there'll be Big Boy 2: Electric Booglaloo. Even if it doesn't happen, it's fun to say.

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