- Directed by Nithiwat Tharatorn
- Starring Chermarn Boonyasak, Sukrit Wisetkaew
- Released in Thai cinemas on March 20, 2014; rated G
- Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5
Toeing a fine line between sweetness and mawkishness, the sentimental GTH romance The Teacher's Diary (คิดถึงวิทยา, Kid Tueng Wittaya) mostly sticks to that line thanks to a fairly tight script, top-notch technical work, a memorable location and, of course, appealing performances by two fine lead actors.
Directed by one of GTH's "Fan Chan six", Nithiwat Tharatorn (Season's Change, Dear Galileo), the comedy-drama follows the stories of two lonely teachers, a woman and a man, who are posted to the same rural school a year apart. The setting is on a houseboat in the middle of a lake up in the mountains of Chiang Mai. Stuck out the boonies, with no electricity, phone service or Internet, one of the teachers turns to keeping an illustrated diary, pouring her thoughts and frustrations into it. When she transfers to another school, she leaves the diary behind. The well-worn notebook is then found by the young man who takes up the rural post. He reads the diary, falls in love with the writer and writes some of his own things in it. After the guy leaves, the woman resumes her former position and finds what he has written, and, having heard a few things about him, she also starts to fall in love, even though the two have never met.
Country schoolteacher dramas are a time-honored subgenre of Thai cinema. They used to be more frequent in the 1970s and '80s, when filmmakers tackled social problems. The setting is the same, thanks to that stunning lake with no cellphone service, so The Teacher's Diary is able to recall the feel of the classic old films while blending in bits of contemporary society. But the issues are more personal, detailing the growth of two young characters who rise to a challenge and accomplish more than they ever thought they would.
The Teacher's Diary also captures the spirit of another GTH film, The Tin Mine (มหา'ลัย เหมืองแร่, Maha'lai Muang Rae), about a college dropout learning life lessons at a Phuket mining outpost in the 1950s. The ramshackle little floating school in Teacher's Diary reminded me of the massive dredge GTH built as the centerpiece for The Tin Mine. Jira Maligool, director of the 2005 film, is a producer of Teacher's Dairy and he helped shape the project. Just like the dredge and jungle setting of The Tin Mine, the ragged diary and the floating schoolhouse of Teacher's Diary become strong icons to build a story upon.
"Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak is Ann, and totally convincing as a stubborn young woman who butts heads with the school district's principal after she gets a small tattoo of three little stars on her wrist. After she refuses to have the tat removed, Ann is assigned to the tiny elementary school on the houseboat. There, her animated style of teaching and informal hipster wardrobe endear her to the half dozen or so impossibly cute students, all children of fishermen.
Ann's story unfolds in parallel to that of Song – No. 2 – a washed-up former Thai national-team wrestler who compensates for his lunkheadedness with sheer enthusiasm. But exuberance isn't enough, so he is assigned to the district's lowest post – the houseboat school. He arrives to find the place empty, Ann having moved on and no schoolchildren around.
Sukrit “Bie" Wisetkaew makes his much-touted big-screen debut as the lovable goofball Song. A runner-up on the Exact/GMM Grammy TV talent show "The Star" eight years ago, he's dropped the show's title from his nickname, but is probably the best-known of its discoveries, having performed on TV and stage and become much-sought-after for product endorsements and appearances. In addition to movies, the singer-actor is even being groomed for a role on Broadway.
Of the two teachers, Ann adapts the easiest to life at the lake school. When there's a crisis, she jumps right in to save the day, even though she can barely swim. (Indeed, Ploy had to take swimming lessons and overcome her fear of water for the role.) Song has a rougher time. On his first outing in the school's boat, he breaks his arm when he engages the longtail motor. Ann is the better teacher – smarter and more skilled. Song has to work out the algebra problems in private before presenting them to the kids. But Song's dedication is heartwarming. He faces his own crisis, and rebuilds everything, even the diary itself. He tracks down a former student and persuades the boy to return to his studies. Without Song, the school would likely not be afloat.
Outside of school, Ann and Song are in unhappy relationships. Song's girlfriend takes up with another guy, and Ann's boyfriend is a controlling jerk. It's the stringing along of whether Song and Ann will ever meet that keeps the movie going but also starts to wear thin as the 90-minute mark passes. It seems natural that Ann and Song would connect through the diary and fall for each other, but various circumstances, missed connections and a missing tattoo keep that pairing something that happens only in dreams.
Of course this is a GTH movie, which are all so very happy and uplifting, even if they are depressing psychological horrors. So, well, you know ...