Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Review: Wonderful Town

  • Written and directed by Aditya Assarat
  • Starring Supphasit Kansen, Anchalee Saisoontorn, Dul Yaambunying
  • Limited release in Thailand on May 15, 2008 as the first film in the Directors' Screen series at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld.
  • Rating: 4/5

Waves lap up on a deserted beach, the sound of the surf booms in high fidelity. The effect is mesmerizing, sleep-inducing even. An effort must be made to not drift off, because there is a movie to watch.

The beach is on one side of this small town. Surrounding it are the craggy, limestone foothills of a rugged mountain chain. The town is isolated. It's hard to get to, and harder still to leave. Hardly anybody lives there. The people that are there are a bit crazy. It's a ghost town.

Into this place comes Ton (Supphasit Kansen), an architect from the big city, Bangkok. He's come to the town to supervise the construction of a new resort hotel. He sees an older hotel and decides to check in. The place has seen better days. The elderly bellman who shows Ton his room gives him the rundown: TV gets regular channels only, and you have to twist the bathroom faucet tightly when you turn it off, or else it will drip.

On the job site, Ton is quizzed by one of the local workers about why he's there. There's nothing to do there. The boredom is maddening even for the residents. Ton says he volunteered for the assignment, and that he prefers the quiet.

Back at the hotel, Ton meets Na (Anchalee Saisoontorn), a young woman who is the hotel's desk clerk and maid. Her strength and beauty have been sapped by the despair that she will live out her life in this small town, working at the hotel her parents built.

Ton is intrigued by her. And Na, though she doesn't show it at first, is clearly interested in him -- listening at his door while he uses the toilet and takes a shower, sleeping in his bed while he is gone. They grow closer, and start spending time together.

A spectre hangs over the whole proceedings -- the 2004 tsunami. It killed many of the town's residents, and left a lot of property in ruin. The town seems shell-shocked.

And then there is Na's brother, Wit (Dul Yaambunying), a wayward gangster who hangs around the edges, threateningly, commanding his gang of menacing motorcycle-riding youths.

Wonderful Town has an assured completeness to it that isn't found in the majority of commercial Thai films. Instead of being a loosely strung-together sequence of raunchy jokes by cross-dressing comedians, scares punctuated by sound effects or hard-driving stunts and action, this is a carefully calculated, quiet drama.

It's more akin to the slow-paced dramas of Malaysian independent filmmaker James Lee than anything being regularly put out in Thailand, though comparisons to the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Pen-ek Ratanaruang most recent works might also be drawn. No wonder, though, that Wonderful Town has been running neck-in-neck on the film-festival competition circuit for the past year with Flower in the Pocket, a drama by Malaysian indie filmmaker Liew Sing Tat -- a contemporary of James Lee.

All the elements are in place. Nuanced performances by the lead actors, beautiful cinematography by Umpornpol Yugala and a haunting, awe-inspiring score by Zai Kuning and Koichi Shimizu, mostly consisting of furiously strummed acoustic guitar.

Watching the drama unfold feels real, like you are there. Yet it's also dreamy, with a lyrical, surreal ending.

See also:
(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

1 comment:

  1. Do you know if this film will be shown in Chiang Mai?


    p.s. nice site!


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