Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review: Kao Rak Thee Korea (Sorry Saranghaeyo)

  • Directed by Poj Arnon
  • Starring Noh Ah-joo, Haru Yamagushi, Ratchanon Sukprakob, Sarun Sirilak, Thanya Rattanamalakul
  • Released in Thai cinemas on July 8, 2010; rated 13+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Maybe Poj Arnon should make more movies in South Korea?

Because the latest effort by the prolific producer-director, Kao Rak Thee Korea (เการัก ที่เกาหลี) or Sorry Saranghaeyo, is uncharacteristically brisk and coherent, marking a major departure from previous efforts that were sprawling, indecipherable messes.

Kao Rak Thee Korea is a broad parody of the Korean trend that has inundated Thai culture in recent years, with Thais eagerly glomming on to South Korean soap operas, pop music and hairstyles.

The movie focuses on a family that runs a dry-cleaning business – middle-class Thais with a big house, a garish wardrobe of winter clothing and enough disposable income to afford a winter package tour to South Korea.

The main character is the teen daughter Kana. She's played by Haru Yamagushi, a enthusiastic bundle of energy in a kewpie-doll-size package. She's obsessed with all things Korean, especially the pop star Ajoo.

Her sister, Mara (Thanya Rattanamalakul), also follows the Korean trend, and wants to visit one of Seoul's vaunted cosmetic surgery clinics to reshape her ghost-face looks, which prevent her from having any success on a string of blind dates.

Along for the ride are a pair of Kana's young suitors, Won (Sarun Sirilak), who wants to be a K-pop dancer, and the brooding Chai ("Guy" Ratchanon Sukprakob), as well as Kana's BFF, effeminate guy Sayan (Patrick Paiyer). There's also mom and grandmother, and pair of effeminate male tour guides (one played by hoarse-voiced DJ "Moddam" Kachapa Tancharoen).

Kana is quickly deposited in a Seoul clinic for her treatments, but bizarrely turns back up during the tour in various states of ongoing repair, with the bandages on her face increasing with each visit, until even her eyes are swaddled over with gauze.

Kana, along with goofball mom and grandma and the effeminate tour guides, serve as comic relief and the source of parody. They are all rather shallow, vain and annoying.

Meanwhile, teenybopper Kana and her effeminate male friend Sayan have snuck away from the tour, taking a train to find her idol Ajoo.

This portion of the film is more melodramatic in tone and is boosted by the appearance of pop star Ajoo, smoothly and confidently playing a version of himself.

The set-up has him feeling overworked and depressed after a break-up with a girlfriend. It's a comment on the pressure-cooker that is the South Korean entertainment industry, where stars are precision-manufactured money machines, and they pay a high price if they break down.

Kana's visit is just the distraction he needs, and his stern taskmaster manager allows him to take a few days off to get his head right.

The concern is whether this star genuinely likes Kana or is just taking advantage of her, and how far is he going to go.

Chai has Ajoo's manager's phone number (they speak English to each other) and he uses it to track down the star and his gal pal. He and Won eventually turn up and keep a close eye on Ajoo.

One humorous scene has all three guys soaking together in a tiny hot tub, and the appearance of someone in the doorway makes them all hug each other tight in order to cover up their private parts. The other person just shakes their head, wondering what the heck that was all about.

Gorgeous snow-covered landscapes are captured lovingly, and when Kana's heart is indeed broken – Ajoo couldn't help it after all – she tearfully traipses through the winter wonderland, sobbing like she's in a music video. Second-stringer Chai is there to hug her.

The cohesiveness of the narrative starts to fall apart once the family returns to Bangkok for a frenzied ending that culminates at a K-pop concert.

They all should have stayed in South Korea.

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