- Directed by Panjapong Kongkanoi
- Starring Sunny Suwanmethanon, Ananda Everingham, Nalinthip Phermphatsakul, Ase Wang
- Released in Thai cinemas on August 23, 2012; rated 15+
- Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5
Imagine going on a trip with two people you can't stand. That's what Shambhala (ชัมบาลา) is like. The feature debut by Panjapong Kongkanoi, it's the story of estranged brothers, complete opposites, who are thrown together on a spiritual pilgrimage to Tibet. The film was actually completed three years ago, but for various reasons it was kept on ice at Sahamongkol Film International.
Sunny Suwanmethanon is the straitlaced, uptight half of the sibling pair, with Ananda Everingham as the feckless, womanizing drunk. Neither are particularly likable. Sunny is obsessively trying to recreate a journey his dying girlfriend took without him a year or so before. So he's always stopping at various scenic vantage points to have his picture taken. Ananda invites himself along on the trip with the excuse that his brother needs a photographer. Now how many movies is it that Ananda has played a photographer? I've lost track. Anyway, in Shambhala, he's not a particularly good shutterbug. He's more bent on a staying as lubricated as possible, all the time, and is constantly having to stop to pee or puke.
After awhile, Stockholm syndrome sets in and you actually start to care about these two jerks. They are powered on this spiritual journey by mutual self loathing. Both have dark secrets in their past that are ever so slowly revealed.
On the plus side, there's pretty scenery to look at as the boys are led around the hinterlands of Tibet, where they take in snow-capped mountains, tiny villages, Buddhist temples and flag-festooned shrines. Interestingly, their trip is off the beaten path, studiously avoiding the usual tourist haunts of the capital Lhasa and its main attraction Potala Palace.
Also noteworthy is the soundtrack of indie rock, mostly by Greasy Cafe, the band of musician-actor Apichai Tragoolpadetgrai.
Along for the ride is their guide, a Tibetan guide who conveniently speaks fluent Thai. He's actually a friend of the director, some guy named Jo. He's really the only cool guy on the road trip and he gets the most sympathy – an amazing feat, given how tortured the souls are of the fellows he's driving around in his Land Cruiser. He's the paragon of Buddhist calm until one point he sort of snaps asks Ananda why he's such an annoying drunk.
The women in the tale fare poorly. Sunny's girlfriend (Nalinthip Phermphatsakul) is a young woman who's full of sass. But then she gets sick. She's losing her hair, so you know what that means.
Ananda had a girlfriend, too, a wife actually. She's played by Ase Wang, and has a few nice moments as she's trying cook tom yum goong. It must not have been very good, because the marriage quickly goes as sour as a soup with too many lemons. They get into an argument, which ends badly. And so Ananda becomes an even more chronic alcoholic.
Before it's all over, there's a spiritual transformation, Technicolor rays of light shoot from mountaintops and dead girlfriends are contacted on a cellphone where there was likely no service.
The overarching message is one of forgiveness, but in order to truly forgive, you first have to forgive yourself.