Friday, October 1, 2010

Review: Sabaidee 2: From Pakse With Love

  • Directed by Sakchai Deenan
  • Starring Ray MacDonald and Khamly Philavong
  • Released in Thai cinemas on August 30, 2010; rated 13+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Hardly romantic, Sabaidee 2: From Pakse with Love (สะบายดี 2 ไม่มีคำตอบจากปากเซ, Sabaidee 2: Mai Me Kamtob Jak Pakse), is more of a satire of the Thai film industry.

Directed by Sakchai Deenan, Sabaidee 2 is billed as a "true story" and is a prequel to the director's 2008 Thai-Lao romance Sabaidee Luang Prabang, which he co-helmed with Laotian filmmaker Anousone Sirisackda, and starred Ananda Everingham as a photographer who falls in love with Laos and a Laotian tour guide, played by beauty queen Khamly Philavong.

In Sabaidee 2, Ray MacDonald takes over the lead, while Khamly reprises her role of sorts, playing the tour guide.

It's a rare comedic role for MacDonald, which he fills capably. Essentially, Ray is the cipher for Sakchai in this story of a struggling filmmaker who goes to Laos, falls in love with a Laotian woman and then makes movie and gets involved with reviving the Laotian film industry.

The film opens with a dream sequence, in which Ray's character Por is mistaken for someone named Pen-ek. He then wakes up to the reality of his one-room apartment and sets about pitching a movie project. At the studio, he sees younger, twentysomething indie filmmakers scooped up by producers, while he's left brooding in the lobby. He then looks at a Hollywood poster that has a message for him: No Country for Old Men.

A chance run-in with an old friend from the film industry, a former director who's running a street stall selling soy milk, puts Por in touch with a job in Laos, shooting a wedding video. He balks at first, but the princely sum of 500,000 baht convinces him to take the job.

It's not until he gets to the southern Laos city of Pakse, on the scenic Mekong River, that he realizes he's actually being paid in comparatively worthless Lao kip.

By then it's too late to turn back, so he sets about doing the best job that he can.

But he's also captivated by the tour guide and bridesmaid, Sorn, played by Khamly. All his attempts to break the ice with her are coldly rebuffed. She does not like him and that is that.

An encounter between the two under an awning in a crashing downpour reveals why the girl acted so freakishly in a similarly rainy scene in Sabaidee Luang Prabang.

Better chemistry develops between Por and a pair of child actors, playing Sorn's little brother and sister, who try to play matchmaker. And it helps that the boy is interested in learning to become an "image maker", working as the assistant to Por.

As Por's attempts to woo Sorn are rebuffed, he sinks deeper and deeper into a beer-fueled depression. He takes a swim in the Mekong and then it's time to return to Bangkok, where, somehow, he finds inspiration for a new movie project, which becomes Sabaidee Luang Prabang.

Several of Sakchai's cohorts in the film industry make appearances. Thanit Jitnukul offers encouragement to his downtrodden friend Por.

Adirek "Uncle" Wattleela is a producer to whom Por pitches his new project. Uncle explains he once gambled on an "art film". It was loved by critics, and was hailed at film festivals. But at the local box office, it was a resounding flop. He points to the poster behind him. It's Tears of the Black Tiger. Another industry vet, Theeratorn Siriphunvaraporn, plays a director coming into Uncle's office after Por leaves, and he pitches an "art film" to Uncle, who hilariously launches himself across the desk to attack Theeratorn's throat.

But Por eventually gets his project approved, and the big red gaffer trucks roll into Laos. Sakchai himself appears as Por's stocking-cap-clad assistant director.

Khamly, for whatever reason, seems glad to see Por again, and is bemused that the actress in the Sabaidee Luang Prabang movie looks just like her, though she maybe looks a couple of years older, she jokes.

How does it end? Well, maybe we'll have to watch a planned third entry in the Sabaidee franchise to find out for sure.

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