Monday, August 4, 2008

Review: Where the Miracle Happens

  • Directed by Sirip-pakorn Wongchariyawat
  • Starring Princess Ubolratana, Sukolawat Kanaros, Siraphan Wattanajinda, Nisarat Apiradee, Somchai Sakdikul
  • Release in Thai cinemas on August 7, 2008

If even the most stone-hearted cynics let their defences down just a bit, they will be shedding tears by the end of Where the Miracle Happens.

Princess Ubolratana stars as Pimdao, a ruthlessly determined property developer whose get-the-job-done-at-any-cost ethos runs counter to her generous, free-spirited daughter Pat.

Pimdao spends all her time building condos, but has failed to provide a loving home for Pat who, seeking to break free, heads north to Chiang Rai, where she intends to be a volunteer teacher at a rundown rural school.

When a traffic collision kills Pat and severely injures Pimdao, the tycoon has a change of heart -- literally. She then discovers her daughter’s elaborately illustrated diary, which describes the northern school, and decides to take her daughter’s place as a volunteer.

An edgy suspense is created because once the perfectly coiffured, flawlessly fashionable Pimdao turns up in this far-flung district with no paved roads, she decides not to tell anyone she is Pat’s mother.

The colourful, unscrubbed villagers and the eclectic, comical collection of cute children fall immediately in love with Pimdao. But a young, tomboyish woman, named Nil, who is a teacher and was a friend of Pat’s, is suspicious of the new arrival.

Why would a woman of obvious wealth, with her phone-toting personal assistant and a supply of bottled drinking water in tow, stoop to living so rustically in obvious discomfort?

Pimdao gets to work, overseeing vast improvements to the school. She bonds with the children, teaching them English in the afternoons. One of the boys learns the phrase "You are so beautiful," and uses it on teacher Nil the next day, earning the boys some detention time at the back of the classroom.

The villagers beg Pimdao to teach them English, but instead, she comes up with a curriculum that gets the entire village involved even the toothless elderly hilltribe ladies – teaching the children lessons about herbal medicine, animal husbandry and first-aid and mixing it with maths and language.

Pimdao finally earns Nil’s begrudging respect.

A few spectres loom. There is a van from a karaoke parlour that trundles through, buying young girls from their fathers.

And there is Pimdao’s true identity, which if found out could jeopardise the trust the villagers have placed in her, plus Pimdao’s weak heart, which makes her very existence tenuous at best.

What director Sirip-pakorn Wongchariyawat has achieved with “Where the Miracle Happens” is making a gentle, engaging drama about the relationship between a mother and daughter, as well as a look at the struggles in a poor village. The story is adapted from the Princess’s book, “Rueng San Tee Chan Kit” (“Short Stories from My Thoughts”).

The technical elements are top notch, with the cinematography sumptuously capturing the green countryside. The score swells at just the right moments. The supporting cast is well chosen. Among them are Sukolawat Kanaros as a young volunteer doctor, Siraphan “Noon” Wattanajinda (from Dear Dakanda and The Unseeable) as Nil, Nisarat Apiradee as daughter Pat and veteran comic actor Somchai Sakdikul taking a dramatic turn as the school’s janitor.

It is Siraphan who is given the task of dramatically confronting Pimdao, pointing her finger and hollering at the character. It must have been tough for the actress to accuse the woman she has grown up knowing as Princess Ubolratana, but if there was any awkwardness on the set, it does not come through on the screen.

The messages of Where the Miracle Happens are many. Sufficiency economy is one – telegraphed through the bamboo water pipes that Pimdao instructs the villagers to use at their school, instead of plastic or metal. There is the idea of merit, and that doing a good deed in an effort to make up for a bad one is not necessarily going to even out your karma. Sometimes, bad things happen that cannot be undone.

But the main message is one of giving and opening your heart to people less fortunate than yourself. Which makes sense because all proceeds from this movie will benefit the Miracle of Life Foundation, another of Princess Ubolratana’s charitable concerns. It will benefit poor rural schools.

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(Cross-published in The Nation, Page 12B, August 4, 2008)

1 comment:

  1. Well, I might end up seeing this. I'm a cynic, but I'm not stone-hearted. I don't doubt that chances are I'll well up at some point, but the question for me is, will I feel good about myself in the morning?

    Heartstring-tugging may work, but it tends to leave me feeling manipulated.

    We'll see how it goes.


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