Friday, December 4, 2009

Review: Yam Yasothon 2

  • Directed by Phettai Wongkumlao
  • Starring Janet Khiaw, Busarakam Wongkumlao, Harin Suthamjaras, Phethay Wongkumlao, Anuwat Tarapan
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 3, 2009. Rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Just as much fun as the original and perhaps twice as colorful, Yam Yasothon 2 is another heaping helping of spicy Isaan humour mixed with ’60s-style fashions from comedian Phettai Wongkumlao, better known as Mum Jokmok, who writes, directs, produces and stars as Yam.

The results are still spectacular, but are perhaps less fresh than 2005’s first installment because Mum and his company of country comedians settle into the same formula as before. It’s the timeworn story of young lovers and a parental figure who is determined to keep them apart. The jokes are leavened with beautifully composed displays of Isaan handicrafts, dancing and folksongs -– reflecting Mum’s determination to promote and preserve his Northeastern heritage. Also, the movie is in Isaan dialect, with central Thai and English subtitles in most cinemas.

Though it’s only been four years since we last laid eyes on Yam, somehow 20 years have passed, and yet the story is still set in the late 1960s. In this paisley time warp, simple country bumpkin Yam is now a respected and morally upstanding headman of a village in Yasothon province. When Kamnan Yam is not rousting gamblers, pot smokers and transvestite prostitutes out of the local temple, the grey-haired, shotgun-toting father is yelling at his wife Juei. She has borne him a prodigious brood of children, and all have left the nest except for one daughter and one son, Ware and Kampan.

Yam Yasothon 2 is very much a family affair. The daughter is played by Mum’s actual daughter, Busarakam “Em” Wongkumlao. The smart-mouthed son –- a chip off the old block -– is Mum’s boy Phethay “Mick” Wongkumlao. Nephew John Wongkumlao plays an Agriculture Ministry official.

Returnees from the first Yam Yasothon include Janet Khiaw, again playing Yam’s wife, who for some reason loves her irascible hubby even though he subjects her to endless torrent of verbal abuse.

Anuwat Tarapan is back as Yodchai, the village sheriff’s son, who if you remember the end of the first movie, was ordained as a monk. Twenty years in the saffron robes have transformed the foppish idiot into a beacon of serene wisdom. He has a pair of temple boys to finish his sentences and mimic his comic goofball flourishes.

Mum’s brother Anupong Wongkumlao is back in drag as the ladyboy Chang Yim, and she has Yodchai’s former yes men Rak and Yom (Kamsai Chernyim and Kamayn Lookyee) now finishing her salty sentences. They are also her comic enforcers because the former maid Chang Yim has assumed her mistress’ role and become the village’s stereotypical evil money lender.

Yam himself assumes the role of the bad guy keeping the lovers apart. He doesn’t want his beloved daughter hooking up with the smooth-talking deputy agriculture minister who has come to the village.

Deputy Minister Thanoo is smitten with the beauty Ware. Her classic Isaan features are accentuated by a beehive hairdo, dollops of eye shadow and elaborate eyelashes, which always seem to be fluttering demurely and in slow motion.

Thanoo, played by another newcomer, Harin “Dim” Suthamjaras from the rock group Tattoo Color, tries to woo Ware, telling her such things as he wishes he were the crust in her eye, that way he’d always be in her sight. Harin gets the biggest laughs from the outlandishly colourful outfits he wears, plus a rooster-like mating dance he performs during ceremonies for the Bang Fai rocket festival.

Fate eventually does drive the lovers apart, and then the folk-song serenaders join the fun, with morlam rockers jamming in the rice paddy, singing mournful ballads to the water buffalo.

The story culminates in a riot of surprisingly good and bloody action –- just like a Thai shoot-’em-up film of the 1960s. Bandits storm the village and steal the temple’s Buddha statue, which is named “Ong Bak”. But there is no martial artist named Tony Jaa to save the village – just moustachioed Yam and his trusty shotgun, plus a couple of surprise six-gun-toting heroes to help save the day.

Mum is in his comfort zone, with his family and the family-like cast and crew he regularly works with in his other movies, including the high-society satire Wongkumlao earlier this year, and his TV shows.

Through the corny jokes, there's a heartfelt message from Mum, mainly to his children, but also to the Isaan migrant workers who come to Bangkok to work in factories, drive taxis and do other jobs -- be proud of your heritage and don't forget your language or where you came from. He says this to the son Kampan who speaks Bangkok Thai and listens to rock music (and is played by overseas-educated Mick).

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(Cross-published in The Nation 'xp', December 3, 2009, Page 1B)

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