Tuesday, January 18, 2005

BKKIFF 2005 review: Wai Onlawon

  • Directed by Piak Poster
  • Starring Pairoj Sangworiboot, Lalana Surawan, Jirawadee Issarangkool na Ayuthaya, Somkuan Krachangsatr, Somjit Subsamruai
  • Originally released in Thailand in 1976; reviewed at 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival
  • Rating: 4/5

According to a Thai co-worker the title can be loosely translated as "time of confusion", which is certainly apt, because confusion reigns in this story of a young man named Tum and his struggles in courting a young neighbor girl, Oh, and working his way through college.

If there were such a thing as a metrasexual Thai man back in the 1970s, it would been this character. He's a country boy and can do hard, physical labor, like farming or construction, but he can also make tasty desserts and can sew. A real renaissance man, you'd think he'd be a cinch to pass the university exams and get into the Faculty of Architecture. He doesn't get in, though, and has to sit out a year before trying again.

In the meantime, he takes on some young students as a tutor. Not only is the guy a regular handyman at anything, he's a math whiz as well. His troubles begin when his landlady brings over her youngest daughter for help with her schoolwork.

A nosey neighbor is watching Tum and sees something going on and lets her imagination run wild. Soon, the neighbor lady and her husband are at Oh's parent's house, blabbing about what they thought they saw. It's all a big misunderstanding, but face has been lost. Oh's old man forbids her from seeing Tum again.

The eldest daughter, whom Tum had taken a liking to earlier in the film, goes over to try and patch things up and get Tum to move out. Tum refuses and drives a wedge between him and the older girl.

A rivalry then develops between Tum and Oh's domineering, drama-prone father.

Tums goes over to the family's home and confronts the father, declaring that "someday I will marry your daughter", which was just plain weird.

Tum grows obsessed with the younger girl, angling for ways to meet her and talk to her and help her with her schoolwork. It's kind of sick, really -- at least while she was wearing a junior high uniform and the short hair. Later in the film, she's a college student and the relationship seems more natural. Anyway, by then it's a given -- Tum and Oh are destined for each other.

Another co-worker briefly bumped into me after the film and said "everything about that film was morally wrong".

But it was funny.

Tum devises a plan to spy on Oh and help her with her schoolwork by crawling under her house and slipping notes up through the crack in the floor where she sits to watch TV. In order to do so, he needs to bribe the dog with some meat. The smiling, happy, friendly dog with its tongue wagging got some of the biggest laughs.

But the plan goes awry when Oh's mother sits on the floor to watch some television and feels Tum's pencil poking at her from underneath. Think it was some "bugs" that Oh fibbed about earlier when she was seen fooling around with the crack in the floor, the mother gets a pot of boiling water and pours it through the crack. That took care of the bugs.

Other notes:
  • The restored print seemed choppy, like it was several films spliced together. It seemed like it be five or six episodes from a well-done television sitcom.
  • When Oh is celebrating her birthday, Tum devises a plan to wrap her present up in plastic, swim in the canal to her house using a makeshift snorkel and somehow give her the gift. The Jaws motif is used while Tum is swimming.
  • At the party, Tum is mistaken for a thief and the shotguns come out. Oh's father and the neighbor across the canal are blasting away. To escape, Tum runs through some debris and steps on a board with a nail sticking up. He is seen limping the next day but nothing ever comes of it. The injury is forgotten about.
  • Oh spends a lot of time learning how to dance for Tum's big graduation ball. Tum instead gets drunk and doesn't want to dance. This is another bit that seemed to go nowhere after a big buildup.
  • The multi-talented Tum gets into the university play. He's playing Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire. Oh plants herself onstage and refuses to budge because she's upset about Tum's intimate interactions with the actress portraying Stella. A school official gets Oh to leave the stage by promising the play would be canceled. But the play goes on anyway.
Tum eventually gets into the university to study law. So suddenly he's a legal expert and starts quoting the law to Oh to help her argue against her father.

Eventually, the father, seeing that he can't keep Tum and Oh apart, stops being confrontational, and tries to psychologically pit Oh against Tum. It almost works, but not quite.

They get married, but the old man still has the last laugh.

Wai Onlawon was a revolutionary film for its time. A huge hit, it was the start of a string of youth-based films from director Piak Poster and others. With some hit pop songs (performed by Tum of course; being a multi-talented guy, he can sing and play guitar), it was one of the first films to attract Thai teen-agers to the movies.

Before the festival screening, the lead actor was chatting in a press conference as part of a promotion for a new sequel to this film, Tum and Oh Return.

( Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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