Monday, December 22, 2014

Review: W.

  • Directed by Chonlasit Upanigkit
  • Starring Patcharaporn Samosorn, Siriphan Rattanasomchok, Suttipong Klummanee
  • Limited release at House cinema in Bangkok on December 11, 2014; rated G
  • Wise Kwai's rating 4/5

A college student is thrown into the deep end of soul-crushing mediocrity in the enigmatically titled W., the remarkable directorial debut of young filmmaker Chonlasit Upagnit.

Neung, a brainy freshman, is captured in her first days at university, trying to get her head around the fact that she's been assigned to the faculty that was her last choice – sports – even though she's not particularly "sporty".  She's befriended by a red-haired girl, Ploy, and the two enjoy a close friendship – Ploy tries to teach Neung to swim. But it becomes apparent to Neung that the slacker Ploy is cozying up so she can sit next to Neung in classes and copy off her test papers.

It's a reality check for the naive Neung, who is talented in math and science and had hoped to get into medical school, but for some reason was denied that chance by Thailand's extremely competitive university placement system. Ploy, meanwhile, only aspires to be an aerobics instructor at a shopping mall.

Neung then moves on to a guy friend, Ton, whom she encountered on campus one night. She goes on a date or two with Ton, but then it becomes apparent he's just using her to recreate moments he had with his previous girlfriend, who he's broken-hearted for.

The friendship dramas are interspersed with lighthearted segments in which Neung, Ploy and their friends rehearse English-language speeches about themselves as part of a class assignment.

But loneliness and despair are the main themes for Neung, whose parents are estranged and no longer stay in the family home. At school, she's also mostly alone, thanks to a roommate who never moved in.

Generated out of Silpakorn University, which is also the setting, Chonlasit's film caused a bit of a sensation when word about it spread through the Thai indie community. I mean, it's pretty unusual for an undergraduate student to turn in a three-hour feature as a thesis film.

Aditya Assarat took the project under his wing during the editing process, working with the director to trim the massive drama down to a more-commercial two-hour running length.

With help from ace sound designer Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr (Wonderful Town, Headshot), they shaped W. into yet another solid entry from the Thai indie "shoegaze" movement (or contemplative cinema, if you prefer). Think Hi-So, Mundane History, Concrete Clouds or Uncle Boonmee. Like those films, W. made its initial splash on the festival circuit, world-premiering at Busan and also screening at the relaunched Singapore International Film Festival.

Of course, Chonlasit already has impeccable credentials of his own in the youth-oriented shoegaze realm, serving as editor on Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy and 36. In fact, W. is similar to Mary, but instead of Mary's punky irony there's palpable sadness. There's also a swimming pool angle that W. dwells on, which might earn it comparisons to the slickly commercial (and somewhat shoegazey) GTH thriller The Swimmers.

The burbling electronica soundtrack, moody natural lighting and overall dreaminess also reminded me a lot of Drive, though instead of Ryan Gosling staring blankly in silence over his steering wheel, you have nattering college girls Neung and Ploy riding their bicycle across campus.

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