- Directed by Putthiphong Promsakha na Sakon Nakhon and Wasin Pokpong
- Starring Mario Maurer, Pimchanok Luevisetpaibool, Sudarat Butrprom
- Released in Thai cinemas on August 12, 2010; rated G
- Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5
I've seen the Thai summer sleeper hit First Love and am not sure what I saw. But for reasons I can't explain, I liked it.
Maybe it had some of the exuberance and energy of the John Hughes teenage romantic comedies of the 1980s, like Pretty in Pink or Sixteen Candles.
A coming-of-age story, Sing Lek Lek Thee Riak Wa … Ruk (สิ่งเล็กๆ ที่เรียกว่า...รัก, also Crazy Little Thing Called Love), is about a schoolgirl and her undying crush on the school's heartthrob jock, portrayed by Mario Maurer.
The girl, named Nam, played by Pimchanok Luevisetpaibool, is at first an ugly duckling nerd with glasses. Over one summer, she ditches the spectacles and has her skin lightened. She is cast as Snow White in the school play and lands a spot as the leggy drum majorette leading the marching band. She sets hearts aflutter, but not, it seems, the school's soccer star.
The movie, a production of the Workpoint TV studio and Sahamongkol Film International, is directed by Putthiphong Promsakha na Sakon Nakhon and Wasin Pokpong.
Production values are fine, with the setting of a provincial Thai tourist town captured lushly and lovingly (not sure where it's at, but it's someplace with a reservoir).
The story meanders and despite its energetic pace seems overly long. After all, it covers the girl's entire time in high school, breezing through year after year, with Nam's heart staying true to the clownish, narcissistic photography enthusiast, played by Mario.
I suppose what helped me invest in the story was the great supporting cast, especially the three young friends of Nam. These child actors are sort of a Greek chorus to the whole proceedings.
The main supporting player is the comic actress "Tukky" Sudarat Butrprom, who portrays the English teacher [which is hilarious for her enunciations]. She's also sponsor of the school's comedy players. She has a crush on the school's gym teacher and sports coach, and battles for his affections with a taller, fairer rival faculty member.
The Love of Siam star Mario, at 21 years old, is still youthful looking enough to play a teenage schoolboy. I've found him annoying in his recent commercial spots for Pepsi and other products, but he's okay here. A tortured, lonely artistic soul trapped in an handsome athlete's body, he actually manages to become a sympathetic character.
The movie's ending takes the story off the rails and seems like a huge stretch – a desperation move to wrap things up and give audiences the happy ending they demand.
But whatever. The move proved effective, making First Love the surprise hit of Thailand's summer movie season. Opening on the Queen's Birthday/Mother's Day holiday weekend of August 12-15, First Love was in third place behind the slapstick monastic comedy Luangphee Teng 3 and Toy Story 3, but rose to second place the following weekend. At last count, First Love had earned around $2.2 million (68 million baht), a tidy sum. Along with GTH's latest hit romance Guan Muen Ho, the success shows that Thai audiences currently prefer homegrown romance over just about anything else.
I'm not the film's intended audience and I was initially turned off by the movie, mainly because of the movie posters that don't seem to have anything to do with what actually happens in the film. But I was eventually guilted into seeing it, after word of mouth had spread and friends were asking me about it. And despite my reluctance, I'm glad I saw it.