Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review: Hi-So

  • Directed by Aditya Assarat
  • Starring Ananda Everingham, Cerise Leang, Sajee Apiwong
  • Limited release in SF cinemas, Thailand, on October 13, 2011; re-release on December 29, 2011 at House, Bangkok. Rated 13+.
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Why's Ananda so sad? He's got a great life as an actor in Thailand, and his hot girlfriend from the States has come to visit him at the beachside location of the movie he's making. Later, he gets a cute Thai girlfriend, and he's got cool friends to hang out with and a whole apartment building to call his own.

But, for whatever reason, Ananda is sad. He's uncomfortable with the American woman's visit and her uncomfortableness with the photo-snapping quirks of Thai culture. He maybe likes the Thai lady better but she's uncomfortable with the casual traits of Western culture that Ananda picked up while he when to school in the U.S.

The cultural confusion has ripped away part of Ananda's soul, possibly symbolized by the decaying beach resort, destroyed by the tsunami, and by the deteroirating condition of his Bangkok apartment building, which has had an entire wing clawed away to supposedly make room for new development.

This is Hi-So (ไฮโซ), the second feature from Wonderful Town director Aditya Assarat, and like his first film, Hi-So – Thai slang for blue-haired high-society types that's usually said with a snear – is ironically titled. Like the town that wasn't so wonderful after all, here's a society that's well-off enough but not really all that high.

Hi-So is a partially autobiographical story by the Thai-born filmmaker who was shipped to the U.S. for education while in his teens. The story also reflects the changes Thailand has gone through in this age of globalized culture, in which a Thai actor drinks Tennessee bourbon, talks like an American hip-hop singer, dresses like a New Yorker and adopts a stray dog that turns out to be Japanese.

Ananda Everingham's really the only guy who could have pulled off the role of this actor named Ananda, and there's probably more than a little of himself in the character. He's refreshingly cool and casual but has a melancholy side that comes out when he's alone.

Hi-So is a movie of two halves, each pairing Ananda up with a different girlfriend. Even some of the dialogue and situations are the same in both parts.

Cerise Leang is the American girlfriend Zoe, who Ananda is still with after he's returned to Thailand. She's come for a visit while he's on a film location. While he's off working, she's left alone at a five-star resort, which is virtually empty because it's low season. Zoe has some Lost in Translation moments, only because there's no Bill Murray hanging around, she becomes pals with the hotel bartender (Pison Suwanpakdee) and other members of the staff. The platonic interactions only serve to make things sadder and further emphasize the cultural divide.

Zoe eventually visits the film set, but doesn't understand what Ananda is doing, why she has to be quiet, even when the cameras are not rolling (a scene that reminded me of 24 Hour Party People and "recording silence"), and why Thai people have to take so many pictures.

Cut to some months later, and Ananda has taken up with a Thai woman, May, who works for the film company. Yet, for some reason, she's left to wander the halls of Ananda's Bangkok apartment building alone.

She adopts a stray dog, who she names Ananda, but it's not enough to fill her heart. A night out in a pub with Ananda's internationally schooled pals only serves to widen the gap between them.

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