Sunday, September 18, 2011

Capsule reviews: Kon Khon, Love, Not Yet

Kon Khon (คนโขน) – A helpful cinematic primer about the traditional masked-dance performance art of khon, used to depict the Ramakien, Thailand's version of the Ramayana, is weighed down by overwrought soap-opera melodrama and heavy-handed karmic moralizing. Directed by actor and yellow-shirt political activist Sarunyu Wongkrachang, the movie stars Sorapong Chatree as the leader of a scrappy little khon troupe from the countryside. He has always struggled in the shadow of his big-city rival, played by the urbane cane-wielding Nirut Sirichanya. It's the 1960s, and khon and other live performances are still the main entertainment for ordinary Thais. A hotdog young dancer takes the lead in Sorapong's troupe, but runs into conflict with the sneering one-dimensional moustachioed star of the city troupe, who holds a grudge from way back. There's betrayal after betrayal. One labored thread involves the female teacher and wife of Sorapong's character. Another angle is the love triangle that develops between three childhood friends – the countryboy dancer, his likay (Thai folk opera) actress friend and their pal, a sensitive artist guy. There's a bit of suspense when the two khon troupes stage competing performances on the same night, and one troupe's show is sabotaged. A more interestingly staged conflict arises later, when the city troupe is rehearsing outdoors, in full glittering khon regalia, and the sneering star dancer makes his move of ultimate betrayal against the old master. Karma comes and gets them all. So let that be a lesson. Beautifully shot and costumed as it is in the period setting, Kon Khon could have done more to show the beauty of khon, and make the story about the battle for the nation's cultural soul. Instead, it's something that can be seen every night on TV, complete with drama queens, flairing nostrils, piercing screams and slaps to the face. (2/5)

Love, Not Yet (รักจัดหนัก, Rak Jad Nak) – Bioscope magazine editor Suparb Rimthepathip produces this anthology of three short stories that aim to look at the lighter side of teen pregnancies while also giving a hint of the consequences. Pas Pattanakamjorn and Pairat Khumwan direct the first segment, After Samed, in which a pre-college couple come back from a weekend on Koh Samet with a souvenir they'll never forget. It's a tension-filled drama, as the girl is one week late for her period, but can't take a pregnancy test until the second week. They blame each other for the predicament. Already under pressure over getting into the right university, the possibility of parenthood looms. The girl should be shopping for a university uniform but has to think about maternity clothes instead. Anuchit Mualprom directs the middle segment, I'm Mom, I'm Wife, which is more comedic in tone. It's about a young Muay Thai boxer who's shacked up in the home of his girlfriend's parents. Geeky-looking indie filmmaker Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke is among the members of the funny family. The girl becomes pregnant, just like her sister before her. The clumsy, slacker boxer seems ill-equipped to be a father or even run the family's restaurant stall, and the pregnant girl is simply frustrated. Somehow, it seems, through all the difficulties, the family will be there for them. Finally, there's Tom Hang, a.k.a. Happy Birthday, which actress "Sai" Inthira Charoenpura co-directed with Chakorn Chaipreecha, based on her story inspired from her student days at an all-girl school when everyone thought the full-of-attitude Sai was a tomboy. A hotshot basketball player with lesbian leanings hangs out with the guys one night, drinks too much and ends up in bed with a dude who has a funny name. Her preganancy comes as a shock (and maybe relief) to her mother (veteran actress Jintara Sukkapat). Though the endings of all the shorts are refreshingly open-ended, Happy Birthday is the most enigmatic of the three, but somehow I think basketball girl and her baby will survive, Facebook unfriending aside. (3/5)

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