Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Review: Mum Deaw

  • Directed by Panitch Sodsee and Petchtai Wongkamlao
  • Starring Petchtai Wongkamlao, Phuntadon Kliengchun, Benjawan Artner
  • Released in Thailand cinemas on January 10, 2008
  • Rating: 3/5

Through the film’s sunny posters and the misty-eyed, romance-drenched previews and music videos, Mum Deaw – the new comedy by Petchtai Wongkamlao – appears to be a family-friendly affair. But it’s only family-friendly if parents are on hand to explain to their children that drinking orange juice won’t necessarily put you sleep.

Somehow, this sweet-natured story of an Isaan native newly arrived in Bangkok, and his subsequent bonding with a little boy and romancing of a beautiful teacher, blends in orange juice dosed with a date-rape drug. The drug-laced juice is a discomfiting aspect of this uneven comedy-drama, co-directed, produced and written by Panitch Sodsee and Petchthai, who’s more famously known as comedian Mum Jokmok.

That this confusing film barely resembles its marketing campaign is understandable. Completed in 2006, studio Sahamongkol Film International likely kept it in the can this long because they didn't know what to do with it.

Mum Daew opens with a voice-over to explain that Yasothon native Mum – conveniently playing a character named Mum – is coming to Bangkok for the first time to house-sit for a rich cousin. It’s a chance to fulfill the dream of his lifetime: studying the Chinese language at a private school.

The fun starts as Mum is transported into the city by an obnoxious taxi driver, who can’t believe his ears that an Isaan native is going to study Chinese. Even more unbelievable is that Mum’s humble character is going to live in a luxurious pad right out of a Thai television soap opera.

Rarely transcending anything more than an extended television sitcom, the entire setting of the film is in the fantasy world of a fenced-off housing estate, with large houses, fancy cars, lushly tree-lined lanes and immaculately landscaped gardens. What part of Bangkok is this?

Mum has no time to get comfortable in his new house, though, because that first night he finds a mysterious little boy hiding in his kitchen cabinet.

Played by rooster-headed Phuntadon Kliengchun, the creepy little kid explains that he is not a ghost, but a sign of predestination for Mum – he is Mum’s son-to-be, but will only be born if Mum can woo the woman who will be his mother. If Mum is unsuccessful, the boy, Deaw, will instead be born as a puppy to one of the neighborhood strays.

The next day, the boy – who is evidently only visible to those he wishes to see him – leads Mum to a nearby park, where he points out the woman Mum is destined to marry. While the light-skinned, statuesque beauty is a vision, she seems an unrealistic match for the diminutive, square-faced Mum.

But it does seem as if Mum and the woman, named Fah, are destined to meet when Mum visits his Chinese-language school and finds that Fah (played by Benjawan Artner) is one of the top teachers there.

Soon she’s in Mum’s dreams, which, like the fantasy sequences in another Mum film, 2005’s Midnight My Love, are a hilarious highlight. Here, they are right out of a Chinese fantasy series, with the impassive, deadpan Mum cast as the bold hero.

Each day, the mysterious Deaw turns up with a new “operation” to aid Mum in his quest to bed the boy’s mother, scenarios that lead to pranks, pratfalls and insults at Mum’s expense.

Helping dispense unkindness towards Mum’s character are a couple of other well-known comedians who are often cast in Mum’s films – Choosak “Nhong” Iamsook playing a security guard with an obviously fake moustache, and Yuen Chuan Chuen, as the owner of a company where Mum’s character briefly works. Yuen also has some insanely fake facial hair: the same muttonchop sideburns that are worn by a golfing figurine on his desk. It’s one of the best sight gags in the movie.

Because of the boy’s elaborate plans, Mum is beaten up, chased and cowed into submission by the usual procession of pranks and slapstick. With his deadline fast approaching – a stray bitch is about to have pups – Mum gives in to pressure and connives to bring Fah back to his bachelor pad, where he’ll get her to drink the drugged orange juice.

But nothing is as it seems, and the story takes a dark, violent turn that sees the boy end up in a hospital bed. The bond between Mum and Daew is strengthened in a tender embrace, and the film ends on a misty-eyed note of romanticism, with two people riding a motorcycle off into the sunset with a voice-over from Mum urging viewers to strive for what they believe.

(Cross-published at The Nation)

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