Saturday, August 21, 2010

Review: Boonchu 10

  • Directed by Kiat Kitjaroen
  • Starring Thanachat Tulayachat, Santisuk Promsiri, Jintara Sukapat, Natthaveeranuch Thongmee, Gaewglao Sintaypdon
  • Released in Thai cinemas on August 5, 2010; rated 13+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Lost and stolen wallets hold the currency for new friendships in Boonchu 10, the latest episode in the long-running teen comedy series from Five Star Production.

Director Bhandit Rittakol created the series in the late 1980s and was in pre-production for Boonchu 10 when he died last year. The closing credits are a heartfelt tribute to Bhandit. During the film, there's even misty-eyed hearkening back to the olden days.

Long-time Boonchu cast member Kiat Kitjaroen took over the helm for this one (actually the eighth in the series – parts 3 and 4 were skipped back in the '90s in a marketing gimmick).

The result is seamless. Boonchu 10 Yoo Nai Jai Samer Ja (บุญชู จะอยู่ในใจเสมอ, roughly "Boonchu, forever in our hearts") is just as wholesome, earnest, nostalgic and full of laughter as the previous entries.

Production values are high, with the cinematography capturing lush picture-postcard scenery, cool green-screen action involving a tiger licking a guy and surprisingly well-choreographed and framed action scenes. In short, Boonchu 10 is pretty fun.

In the original series, Santisuk Promisiri portrayed Boonchu, the country boy from the central plains ricefields who goes to Bangkok to study agricultural science. There, the talkative hick meets a group of wacky friends and his true love, Moree (Jintara Sukapat), or "Miss Mo" as he sweetly calls her to this day. When the franchise was rebooted in 2008, Boonchu's and Mo's equally motor-mouthed son Boonchoke (Thanachat Tulayachat) was sprung from the Buddhist monkhood, where he'd spent his entire childhood, and sent to school in Bangkok, where he met a group of wacky friends.

Now, as Boonchu 10 opens, Boonchoke is back home in Suphanburi, bidding his parents farewell as he heads off to his new studies in applied Thai traditional medicine at Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai.

After a quick stop through Bangkok and Chester's chicken to bid farewell to his school friends there from Boonchu 9, he heads up to Chiang Rai, where he offers prayers to the statue of the university's namesake, the Princess Mother. If a certain other director had filmed this scene perhaps it would have been cut by censors.

Boonchoke quickly makes a new friend, a wiseacre named Doc. But Boonchoke's heart is already set on a button-cute young woman named Janhom ("Jeen" Gaewglao Sintaypdon). Using advice from his lady's man friend Doc, Boonchoke tries a line on Jamhom that is totally inappropriate.

But then Boonchoke makes up for that by retrieving the girl's lost wallet and then running his motorbike into a lake trying to give it back to her.

Meanwhile, Boonchu and Mo are set on visiting their boy at the university. Boonchu and his Bangkok buddies all come up to Chiang Rai and visit the northern city's night market.

The men take time out for a meal at a northern restaurant and encounter the same irascible restaurateur they traded barbs with back in Bangkok. How'd he get up to Chiang Rai? Who cares? It leads to plenty of wordplay and jokes that don't really translate well to the subtitles but had the audience rolling in the aisles.

In fact, the genius of the jokes in Boonchu is that they are actually smart, full of puns and idiomatic Thai wisdom, which makes Boonchu such a refreshing departure from the usual lowbrow slapstick that's pulling in crowds these days. (Boonchu 10 was third at the box office earning around 7 million baht its opening week compared to Phranakorn's Luangphee Teng 3, which on its opening week was No. 1 with a whopping 24 million baht.)

Boonchu makes a couple of new friends, one a hilltribe man selling wooden frog noisemakers.

Boonchu then has his wallet stolen, which leads to a knock-down, drag-out chase of the thief by all of Boonchu's buddies through the crowded marketplace. To the rescue comes a spirited young woman, who chases down the street hood and dispenses of him with a few well-placed kicks. It's JaJa, and with a name like that she should be an action star.

It's none other than "JaJa" Natthaveeranuch Thongme, best known for her co-starring role as Ananda Everingham's girlfriend in the original Shutter.

Turns out her character's name is Janpah – a fantastic blowgun-wielding Indiana Jones-style heroine environmental activist who always has exactly the helpful herb she needs in her shoulder pouch. Rightly, she's a legend at the university for her herbology course for fourth-year students.

Of course, an incredible string of coincidences puts her in the path of Boonchoke, who has gone into the forest to forage for herbs and natural remedies with his friend Doc. After the boys have a run-in with a trio of hilarious wildlife poachers, Janpah comes to the rescue and sets the animals, including a tiger, free.

And as the action escalates, Boonchu, his buddies and the hilltribe frog salesman find their way into the forest to locate Boonchoke, leading to a climactic fight involving the wildlife-poacher stooges, the high-kicking Janpah, a chainsaw and a gunshot with a gut-wrenching, mournful impact that leads to a big twist.

And Moree has a secret.

I wouldn't be surprised if there were more of the Boonchu series to come.

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