Friday, October 23, 2009

Review: Rod Fai Fah ... Maha Na Ter (BTS: Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story)

  • Directed by Adisorn Trisirikasem
  • Starring Sirin Horwang, Theeradeth Wongpuapan, Panisara Pimpru, Ungsumalynn Sirapatsakmetha
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 15, 2009, rated 13+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Formulaic and predictable they may be, romantic comedies endure because they are easy date movies and comfort food for the lonely, the isolated and the bored, who file into cinemas or plump down for the home video in the hopes that something new will be offered in the form of escapism.

If the rom-coms are at least entertaining, coherent and competently made, like GTH's latest smash hit Rot Fai Faa ... Maha Na Ter (รถไฟฟ้า...มาหานะเธอ), then all the better. The movie, the title of which loosely translates as "I rode the skytrain to meet you", is apparently like catnip for moviegoers, presumably mostly single ladies. It has crossed the important 100-million-baht mark in its first week of release and could be the biggest box-office hit of the year.

With the international title BTS: Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story, the movie celebrates 10 years of Bangkok's BTS skytrain with a story of a 30-year-old single woman staring into the abyss of spinsterhood who finally sees her chance at romance with a maintenance engineer who keeps the tracks polished on the decade-old elevated railway.

Directed by Adisorn Trisirikasem, there is feeling of hopelessness and loneliness that pervades Rot Fai Faa ... Maa Haa Na Ter, even as the movie hits the usual titillating beats of romantic comedies.

It has stars that are so impossibly good looking, it's hard to believe they are in the situation the movie puts them in. These are the Zellwegerish leading lady Sirin "Cris" Horwang -- an appealingly bubbly yet unattached young woman -- and her Tom Cruise/Hugh Grant/Colin Firth stand-in, soap-opera hunk "Ken" Theeradeth Wongpuapan -- a handsome single young man who has to resort to renting porn VCDs to get a thrill.

These movies have to have a goofy grandma who says outlandish things. And for Cris' character Mei Li, a second-generation Chinese-Thai, there's a granny who still only speaks the language of the old country and, through translations from Mei Li's mother, makes remarks that Mei Li's breasts are too small.

Another convention is the heroine's supportive best friend, seen here in the GTH stock company's comic relief, brassy comedienne "Opal" Panisara Pimpru. She's Mei Li's last friend, but Ped has a new chubby hubby and is spending her nights in gender-reversal roles and taking their aging Boston terrier bitch to the breeder to have puppies.

Yes, even the dog is getting more action than Mei Li.

It's Ped's wedding that sets things into motion. Mei Li makes a fool of herself, getting so drunk at the wedding party that she passes out in the newlywed couple's honeymoon bed. She eventually wakes up to drive home, but nearly crashes her car into a roadside eatery. Her car's sideview mirror lands in the early-morning meal of the leading man, who appears as an angelic vision to Mei Li. Here is a plot point that is in danger of becoming a standard of GTH romances -- another one from the studio -- director Yongyoot Thongkongtoon's Best of Times (Thailand's Oscar submission this year) also began with a drunken-driving incident. It's an issue that's treated so casually, it's probably worrisome to social advocacy groups.

Throw in the story culminating on a big holiday -- in Thailand that would be Songkran, April's water-soaked Thai New Year -- and there you have your romantic comedy.

Having grown up in a strict Chinese-Thai household -- she still lives with her parents in a riverside neighborhood shophouse -- Mei Li has mistakenly been under the impression that a woman should not make the first move on a man. Losing her mind over a Nuvo music video when she was a 13-year-old teenybopper, she misheard what her mother was yelling one day and went through her teenage years and 20s without any boys.

She can't get back those wasted 17 years of her life -- gone in a swirling, purple flash -- but she can do something now. Hope shows up at her doorstep, after the family's maid is caught having sex with a neighborhood guy. There to get the young man out of trouble is his "uncle", none other than the angelic leading man whose name is actually Lung, meaning "uncle".

With her car taken away by her father -- ah, consequences -- Mei Li then bumps into Lung again while she's riding the skytrain, and she finally comes up with an angle for hooking this man. And despite her bumbling ways -- every time she meets Lung she breaks something, including his sunglasses, digital camera and laptop -- they somehow manage to make a connection.

Mei Li gets advice on reeling in this big fish from college girl Plern ("Pattie" Ungsumalynn Sirapatsakmetha), who embodies the stereotype of a plaid-skirted co-ed with multiple mobile phones, a bulging collection of toys and charms dangling from those jeweled phones and harem of various boyfriends or "gigs", who each also embody stereotypes. So some comic mileage is gained in riffs about a guy whose jeans are so tight he can't get off his motorbike, a sportscar-driving tough guy and a skateboard-riding, English-speaking hip-hop enthusiast.

Trouble is, in enlisting this girl's help, Mei Li also has gained a competitor for Lung's attention. And Plern imposes herself on the couple's outing for the Songkran water splashing.

But Mei Li's biggest enemy is herself. In her mooning over Lung, she seemingly loses any sense of propriety. Another of Lung's broken things is his old laptop bag, which Mei Li salvages from the trash. She discovers some old photo negatives in that bag and -- putting her button nose in a place it doesn't belong -- has them developed. It turns out that Lung's college girlfriend is a now-famous soap-opera actress named Kob Kavita. And those pictures from college turn up online, thanks to an unscrupulous photo-shop operator. This causes a further strain on Mei Li's and Lung's budding relationship.

This plot point, perhaps a bit of a stretch, serves to satirize the media's fascination with celebrities and their relationships, which are always answered by the celebrities in the same way, "we were seeing each other but we're just friends", etc.

It also allows for the filmmakers to have a soap opera within the movie, and this is a bit of a treat, to see the nightly slap-and-kiss fests satirized. Kob Kavita, played by Tak Sukjarern, is the show's nang-ek (heroine) with Sunny Suvanmethanont from Dear Dakanda as phra-ek and "Peak" Pataraya Krueasuwansiri from Rak/Sam/Sao as the itcha (villainess). At one point, Peak runs Tak's face over a piano keyboard -- an act that's probably not an exaggeration of the type of catfighting that's seen on those shows.

But Mei Li's biggest obstacle in landing Lung is his job. He works nights on the railway and sleeps during the day. She is the opposite, working during the day for a solar-power accessory company (headed by a comically controlling Japanese boss played by Yano Kazuki, another GTH stock-company player).

And when it emerges that Lung is going abroad for more studies, all hope seems to be lost. Another missed opportunity. Mei Li for sure looks like she will grow old, forever unmarried.

After a lively and comical first half, the movie settles in for a second half that is moody, slow and mournful.

Through its rhythms, Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story captures the movement and scenes of the city. In this way, it's an ode to romance in Bangkok. Paris, je t'aime, New York, I Love You and Sawasdee Bangkok, eat your heart out.

And because it celebrates the Skytrain and was made with the cooperation of the Bangkok Mass Transit System, the movie preserves bits of the Skytrain culture, and takes loving looks at the BTS's infrastructure -- from the stations at Taksin pier, Mor Chit terminal in the north and On Nut terminal in the east and the multi-story Siam interchange, to the system's massive car barn and maintenance facilities. There are little details that riders will recognize, like dropping your fare card on the floor of the station and struggling to pry the flat thing back up. The movie also takes in the attractions around various stations. Next station: Ekamai ... Ekamai. And the Bangkok Planetarium.

Never mind that the much of the excitement and novelty that accompanied the skytrain's opening 10 years ago has worn off. The ear-bleeding advertising messages in the stations and aboard the trains don't intrude on Lung's and Mei Li's conversations. The system now extends past Taksin station, across the river into Thon Buri -- a segment of the line not covered in the movie -- and the BTS is now so overburdened with passengers during the rush hours that the older surface modes of transport -- taxis, city buses, songthaews, tuk-tuks, motobike taxis, river ferries and canal boats -- look more attractive.

But at least we'll always have our cute couple -- Cris and Ken -- to elevate us and keep things moving along.

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  1. wow... what a spoiler. glad ive already ssen the movie or else i would totally lose interest after readinthis kilometric review. ohno, it's not a review... it's an extremely detailed summary of the movie. peace.

  2. Interesting but I don't agree with your assessment at all. As a westerner, I think it's one of the best and the funniest Thai movies ever made. In fact, I've watched it about seven times and never tire of the story, the characters or the humor. Well written and well acted. That's why it's one of Thailand's most successful movies ever.


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