Sunday, January 22, 2012

9th WFFBKK review: I Carried You Home


  • Directed by Tongpong Chantararangkul
  • Starring Akhamsiri Suwanasuk, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Torphong Kul-on, Porntip Kamlung
  • Opening film of 9th World Film Festival of Bangkok, January 20, 2012; unrated
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Like an unplanned road trip, I Carried You Home (Padang Besar, ปาดังเบซา) takes awhile to get moving. Typical of a lot of Southeast Asian indie features that are aimed at the festival circuit, it's a langorous journey, but once it's well and truly on the highway, about an hour into the trek, the pace picks up.

The debut feature by Tongpong Chantararangkul, I Carried You Home mixes death and humor, though not in the raucously morbid way of say, Weekend at Bernie's. After all, this is a Thai indie feature and not a silly Hollywood comedy. Also, there's bucketloads of tears in this story of estranged sisters reunited by their mother's passing.

But there are a few laughs along the way as the siblings spend an awkward 800-kilometer ride with mom's corpse in the back of an ambulance. The laughs are mainly thanks to the ambulance driver (Torphong Kul-on) – a young guy who mines nose nuggets and gets stoned enough to trip out on the light refracting through raindrops on the windshield.

More weirdness comes from the seemingly bizarre practice the characters have of talking to the dead woman, telling her that the ambulance is going through a tunnel, crossing a bridge, making a left turn and passing by a grilled chicken stand. At one point, they almost cause a traffic pile-up on the entrance to a freeway because they forget to tell mom they are turning and reverse to make the turn again. I guess it's a Thai thing, but Western audiences are sure to be perplexed.

Beginning with the ambulance backing up to the hospital door to load up the mother's body, the narrative dips in and out of the past just before mom died, and slowly spoon-feeds background information on the sisters, the younger Pann (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk) and her older sister Pinn (Akhamsiri Suwanasuk). Pann is in high school in Bangkok, living with her Aunt Toey. She's on the verge of heading to university, and to get away from her gushing aunt and her visiting mother (Porntip Kamlung), she makes the excuse that she's got to study for exams. Instead, she spends her time hanging out with a girl classmate, ice-skating at a mall, smoking cigarettes in the carpark and talking about boys.

Pinn, the more delicate-featured of the two, has run off to Singapore, where she works a menial job in a dry cleaners. The circumstances of Pinn's running away are mysterious, and Pann and the mother become quiet when their Aunt Toey brings Pinn up.

The girl's mother has come up from Padang Besar (hence the film's Thai title), a town in the southern Thai province of Satun, on the Malaysian border, to visit Bangkok. She spends her days singing karaoke for a crowd at a shopping-mall food court. Because of the way the chronology is structured, the freakish circumstances of the mother's death is kept mysterious as well. One minute she's warbling an old ballad for an appreciative crowd of beer-drinking aunties and the next she's a stiff on a stretcher. Though she does have an immaculate hairdo and freshly applied makeup.

With Pinn toiling away in Singapore, young Pann is left alone to deal with the mother's death and the outpouring of emotion by the blubbering Aunt Toey. Pann, the tough girl, the smoking girl, keeps things bottled up until it becomes too much for her, and then she's sobbing uncontrollably.

When Pinn finally shows up, Pann gives her the silent treatment. Together, they have to ride in the ambulance to take mom back to Pedang Besar. It's going to be a long, tedious drive. At first, it's Pinn, apparently trying to make up for running away by playing the dutiful daughter. She does all the talking, telling her dead mother where the ambulance is going. She also lights an incense stick, prompting the driver to say something, asking Pinn to crack a window.

Other people want to talk too. The mother's phone rings. "Why don't you answer it?" Pinn asks her younger sis. "Why didn't you answer when I called?" Pann retorts. But Pinn was busy working when she got the call about her mother.

The ill feeling between the sisters persists. A request to turn up the air-conditioning by one sister is belayed by another sister. Eventually, they stop for the night. The sisters have to share a room, and in their day of constant togetherness, the tension begins to melt away, and more is revealed. Even Pann starts to talk to the dead mother and tell her where they are.

So they make it to the funeral, and there are lovely scenes of life around Pedar Besar, and the mixed Thai-Chinese Buddhists and Muslim community. Previously, there are lovely scenes of other things, stretching this movie to 115 minutes when 80 or 90 minutes would probably do. There's a final poetic shot and then the fade to the credits, over which plays indie Thai rock.



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