Sunday, May 1, 2005

Review: Midnight My Love

  • Directed by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee
  • Starring Petchtai Wongkamlao, Woranut Wongsawan
  • Released in Thailand cinemas on May 12, 2005
  • Rating: 4/5

Petchtai Wongkamlao is Thailand's answer to Takeshi Kitano.

He's a comedian, better known as Mom Jok Mok. He's an actor, with many roles to his credit, mainly in action comedies (including his role as Dirty Balls or George in Ong-Bak). And he's a director, with 2003's action-comedy Bodyguard under his belt and another project, Hello Yasothon on the way. He's also an author, with a book out.

In Midnight, My Love, he does his best Beat Takeshi impression, portraying a lonely taxi driver with a moon face and impassive expressions.

Sombat works the night shift. Driving long after everyone has gone to bed, he has the streets to himself. He eats alone -- always the same food, at the same shop. And he lives alone. His only friend is one AM radio station that plays the "golden oldies" and old-time soap operas that he favors. He even visits a ballroom where the old music is played -- alone -- and contents himself to sipping a Coke while listening to the tunes and watching everyone else dance.

He barely exists. At the taxi garage, a co-worker washing the car next to his doesn't notice that he has thoroughly soaked Sombat with his hose. In a busy lobby, people just storm on through, bumping into Sombat as if he wasn't there.

But in his cab, he lays down the law. When a guy (the same actor who was the incessant licker in Citizen Dog) gets in and starts picking his nose, flicking snot everywhere, putting his feet on the seat and is yakking loudly on his cellphone, interrupting the radio drama, Sombat pulls over and tells the guy to get out, thus a losing a fare.

His other co-workers give him grief. Customers don't like the old music. Are golden oldies going to pay his fares? He should listen to FM radio (to say nothing of the CD player many taxis are sporting these days). AM is dead. And he should get a cellphone.

While waiting for fares one night at a big Bangkok massage parlor, a group of massage girls get in after work and have Sombat change the station. One of the girls in his backseat is different, though. While the others are flirty and noisy, this one is sitting there quiet and withdrawn.

Another night, she gets in his cab alone. She likes the old music and she likes Sombat and she asks him to eat with her.

He takes her to his standby joint, where he eats the same thing nightly. "I like this shop," he explains. "Another shop might not be so good."

Eventually Sombat becomes Noal's driver every night, and Sombat starts to come out of his shell.

He recognizes that he and the girl have a lot alike, even though he is a humble cabbie and she is tall and beautiful. One of the things he does is write letters to the host of the Golden Oldies program, hoping that someday his letters will be read on air. In one of his letters, he notes that he takes people to their destinations, but he must keep going because he hasn't reached where he is going. And Noal, a massage parlor girl, is the same, taking men to their destinations, but never to where she needs to be going.

And there is more to Sombat than the straightlaced, quiet cabbie. He has a dark past that catches up with him and strains his relationship with Noan, because there's unforeseen circumstances that make it impossible for him to be there at the end of the night when she finishes work.

The best part of Midnight, My Love, is the connections to the old radio dramas. The old soap operas are used as fantasy interludes, with Sombat and Noan becoming the characters in a old movie that is synched up with the old-time radio play. The images during these 1960s-style vignettes are stretched unanamorphically, with scratches, replicating an old film, with the acting coming off very melodramatically. Reminiscent of the Mit-Petchara era of Thai film, it's style that was experimented with in I-San Special and The Adventure of Iron Pussy. Here, it's gone mainstream and the effect is pretty cool.

The melodrama and sadness intrude on the present-day action and things get going pretty grim, and for a bit, downright twisted, so strange in fact, it feels like a different movie.

But Mom Jok Mok gives a winning performance, and Woranut, a television actress in her first film role, shows some restraint, portraying her character with dignity, in spite of the thankless job she's doing, working as one of the girls in the fishbowl at a soapy parlor, just to send money home to her ungrateful family. There is also some great photography of present-day Bangkok, as seen from the seat of a taxi, passing by many recognizable intersections and landmarks.

This isn't all from Mom. He's in Cannes right now, helping promote the Ong-Bak followup, Tom Yum Goong.

And there's Hello Yasothon. According to ThaiCinema, it's a rural love story set in 1967. I also understand it's a throwback to the musical "look thung" films of that era. What little exists of them today have proven to be fun, so I'll be checking that out as well.

More information:
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please, no questions or comments about where to download movies or subtitle files.

Please read the FAQ about Thai films on DVD before asking about where to find a Thai movie on DVD with English subtitles.

Make your comments pertinent to the post you are commenting on. For off-topic comments, general observations or news tips, consider sending an e-mail to me at wisekwai [ a t ] g m a i l [d o t ] c o m.

All comments are moderated. Spam comments will be deleted.