Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: Baan Chan ... Talok Wai Gon (Por Son Wai) (The Little Comedian)

  • Directed by Witthaya Thongyooyong and Mez Tharatorn
  • Starring Chawin likitjareonpong, Paula Taylor, Jaturong Mokjok, Nichapat Jaruratnawaree
  • Released in Thai cinemas on March 11, 2010; rated 13+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

After the blood-spilling stunts by the red-shirt demonstrators in Bangkok, the gory twist in GTH’s Baan Chan ... Talok Wai Gon (Por Son Wai) (บ้านฉัน...ตลกไว้ก่อน (พ่อสอนไว้), The Little Comedian) won’t seem all that shocking to Thai moviegoers, except perhaps to fans of squeaky-clean actress Paula Taylor.

The twist comes at the midway point of this mostly wild-eyed and innocent comedy by Witthaya Thongyooyong, who’s looking to rekindle the spirit of the childhood romance Fan Chan, his 2003 debut feature, co-directed with five other young filmmakers.

Co-scripted and co-directed with Mez Tharatorn, Little Comedian is about the one unfunny boy in a family of comedians.

While Fan Chan made stars of child actors Charlie Trairat, Focus Jirakul and Chaleumpol “Jack” Tikumpornteerawong (who has a cameo here), Little Comedian puts the spotlight on Chawin likitjareonpong, who plays the scion of the Plern family in Lop Buri.

His father is a comedian, like his grandfather before him. Everyone in the family is funny.
Mom has a way of chatting on the phone that keeps the callers guessing. Granny can run off an epic list of her ailments that will put you in stitches – just don’t ask her what’s wrong with the car.

And little sister Salmon (Nichapat Jaruratnawaree) has such precision comedic timing you’d think she was crafted by Swiss watchmakers. The sharp-witted six-year-old has showbiz instincts built in as well – when she loans her brother some pocket change from her piggy bank, she demands that she be allowed to tag along, plus 5 per cent interest a day.

Named Tock, after Thailand’s most revered comedian Lor Tock, the boy has big shoes to fill, which makes his situation all the more woeful. Trouble is he tries too hard. His jokes, elaborately sketched out in his school notebook, look hilarious on paper but fall flat on execution.

Boys will be boys, and when Tock follows his pimply faced classmate to an appointment at the dermatologist, he’s captivated by the woman doctor, Nam Kan. Played by Paula, this Dr Ice is hot, with a big bright smile that melts Tock’s heart. So he puts all his effort into making his prepubescent face break out, just so he can have his pimples lanced by the cool dermatologist. After the prescribed chocolate bars and days without washing, sure enough, a big blackhead pops up on his nose. Money in hand from his sister, Tock trots along to the skin clinic. There he finds another reason to fall in love with the doc – he can make her laugh.

Scenes then follow of Tock trying to ask the doctor for a date, and actually succeeding, but it’s all pretty awkward because she’s twice his age and literally stands head and shoulders higher than him.

Meanwhile there are more serious matters at hand with Tock’s father, Pa Plern, who is hoping for a break that will land his comedy troupe on TV.

Tock actually has the dual challenges of starting a relationship with his doctor, trying to please his father and living in the shadow of his funnier little sister. The father-son scene is one of tension-filled brinkmanship. A music score more fitting to a spaghetti-western gunfight sets the mood as Tock struggles to not let on that he doesn’t think he’s cut out to be a comedian. It’s too much strain for a 12-year-old, and eventually the secrets and suppressed emotions come gushing out.

There are troubling moments with regards to what constitutes a proper doctor-patient relationship, especially between a boy and an adult, as well as boundaries that are crossed in terms of when that professional relationship becomes friendly. And, as friends, how far can you go in sticking your nose in someone else’s personal life? So far that you devise an elaborate comedy skit to steal your friend’s phone so you can look at her numbers? Too far? It’s the kind of situation that can only happen in a movie. Or maybe just in a small town like Lop Buri.

Overall, the tone of Baan Chan is uneven. It succeeds in the smaller moments, especially when it becomes apparent that Pa Plern, the consummate yukster portrayed by comedian Jaturong Mokjok, has his serious side (as well as a maternal one), and that he loves his son no matter what.

Another scene involving a duck is pretty funny.

One touching moment comes when Dad is daubing rouge on his son’s cheeks, preparing for his debut as a drag queen – a rite of passage in all family comedy troupes. “Put on more makeup, Dad. Make me look slutty!” the boy says.

The movie also gets points for its attention to Thailand’s culture of cafe comics, a struggling art form in which the troupes – telling the same jokes for generations – have been relegated from the nightclubs to discount barbecue restaurants.

A major quibble is about studio GTH’s Westernised dumbing-down of the English subtitles, or in this case “dubtitles”. The comedy troupe does impressions of such popular comedians as Kohtee Aramboy and Mum Jokmok and Thai singers like Ad Carabao, but the words on the screen say Jack Black, Jim Carrey and Willie Nelson, which is utterly confusing because the impressions don’t match. It would have been better to put the Thai names in the subtitles, and then non-Thai viewers could match what they see with what they hear. Perhaps they’d learn something rather than thinking, “Wow, that was a dumb joke – that guy didn’t sound anything like Willie Nelson!”

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(Cross-published in The Nation, Page 3B, March 18, 2010)


  1. I'm going to see this today (Paula Taylor is the main reason.)

    About dubtitles, it happened several times before. Once I watched Juno, Ellen Page said about Kurt Cobain but she, the translator, translated as Big Ass (famous Thai rock band) instead !

  2. Big Ass = Nirvana? I don't think so.

    The sort of translation is inaccurate and unnecessary. I mean, Juno is a smart girl, but I doubt she'd know who Big Ass is. But it's highly likely that a Thai teenager would have heard about Kurt Cobain. Movie audiences should get more credit than the studios and subtitlists give them.


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