Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Review: Guan Muen Ho (Hello Stranger)

  • Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun
  • Starring Chantavit Thanasevi and Neungtida Sophon
  • Released in Thai cinemas on August 19, 2010; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

As far as romantic comedies go, Hello Stranger (Guan Muen Ho, กวน มึน โฮ ) is okay I suppose.

It's the solo bow by Banjong Pisanthanakun, who previously co-directed the critically acclaimed hit horror thrillers Shutter and Alone with Parkpoom Wongpoom and helmed the popular comedic segments for the Phobia and Phobia 2 horror anthologies.

The story is about a pair of young Thais, a loser guy ("Ter" Chantavit Thanasevi from Coming Soon) and a woman (new-face actress "Noonaa" Neungtida Sophon) who meet while traveling in South Korea.

Hello Stranger is yet another look at the Thai fascination with all things Korean. Here, it's mainly the Korean TV dramas, which fill up Thai broadcast time and have ridiculously melodramatic plots rivaled only by the Thai soaps.

We meet the guy as he's being left at Bangkok's airport by his buddies. He has no luggage, is wearing only a T-shirt and jeans and has "dumped" written across his forehead in magic marker.

It's not apparent why he's going to South Korea, alone, on a package tour. He doesn't relate to the Thai fascination with Korean pop culture and hasn't even traveled very far outside of Thailand.

The young woman, also traveling alone, is on the same flight to Seoul, but is not part of the tour group.

A drunken first night in Seoul has the guy mistakenly eating dog then getting drunk and landing at the backpacker-hostel doorstep of the woman. She lets some words in Thai slip, and the guy, a lost and lonely puppy dog, sinks his teeth into her and won't let her go until she helps him.

He's lost in Seoul, been left by his tour group, has no luggage or warm clothes and can't speak much English or Korean. The woman takes pity on him and agrees to let him tag along on her tour of Korean TV-show locations, on the condition they don't tell each other their names.

There's loads of references to South Korean TV shows and boy bands, but I didn't get most of it, except for a bit about the martial-arts stage show Jump, which has actually visited Bangkok, and possibly a salute of the squirming octopus tentacle to Park Chan-wook's Old Boy.

The characters play tug-of-war with the audience's sympathies. The guy, ably and enjoyably portrayed by Ter, appears first as a clownish buffoon with no manners or brains, but his vulnerabilities eventually come through. Noonaa is a capable GTH leading lady in the mold of Cris Horwang or Paula Taylor. She appears first as strong and sensible but ultimately becomes the victim.

Banjong's bent for horror and suspense come through in a couple enjoyable scenes. One, which is played for comedy, involves a man under a pink child's blanket at the back of the tour bus.

Later, the mood turns suitably dark, like a scene out of Shutter. It's after the couple has bonded and had the type of crazy adventures couples have in romantic comedies – trying on different wacky outfits, riding double on a motorcycle, getting drunk, ruining a wedding, winning money at a casino, renting a sportscar, seeing snow and generally acting like fools – that the guy is left cold and alone on a dark road and all the despair of loneliness hits him like an 18-wheel truck.

I wanted the movie to end right there. Or perhaps at another moment when the guy has again surrendered and been brought to his knees.

Banjong told The Nation that his movie is actually "anti-romantic".

"Most romantic comedies feature one charming character and one less-forward individual. The prominent character leads the other and they finally fall in love. But if the two characters don’t want to get to know each other then how does the romance ever get off the ground? That’s the challenge," he said.

But this is after all a GTH studio film, which demands that it be a cute, slick and polished commercial product, and audiences for such things must be given a happy ending in exchange for their 160 baht and two hours of sitting.

The formula works. Guan Muen Ho earned nearly 40 million baht its opening weekend and is said to be on track to double that. Another romantic comedy, Sahamongkol's schoolgirl romance starring Mario Maurer, First Love (สิ่งเล็กๆ ที่เรียกว่า...รัก, Sing Lek Lek Thee Riak Wa … Ruk), is running neck-and-neck, showing that romantic comedies aren't trivial as far as revenues go.

So there will be more and more of these. Perhaps Banjong can make a sequel to Hello Stranger and make more "anti-romantic" fun of whatever pop-culture trend strikes Thailand next.

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  1. just watch it today, 'hello, stranger' is like a thai version of 'before sunrise' (1995) there are just too many similarity... still, it wasn't half bad though

  2. i love this movie damn much!

  3. hi.. where can you find english subtitles of hello stranger??

  4. Haven't heard anything yet, but expect there will be one from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan or South Korea.

  5. There was a Thai comedy/horror movie about 8 years ago where students travel into the country and their van breaks down, they go to a village where everyone is a ghost and at the end realize that they are ghosts too (the van had actually crashed) Dying to know the name of it, can you help?

    1. Gosh, that sounds like just about every Thai comedy-horror film. The van aspect sounds familiar, but maybe I'm thinking of Scooby Doo.


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