Sunday, October 10, 2010

Review: Phuket/Boy Genius/The Sigh

  • Directed by Aditya Assarat
  • Starring Lim Soo-jung, Sorapong Chatree, Sivaroj Kongsakul, Sarawut Panta
  • Released as part of the Director's Screen Project on September 30-October 27, 2010, SF World Cinema, CentralWorld, Bangkok; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

The trappings of celebrity and filmmaking are examined in three shorts by Aditya Assarat, Phuket, Boy Genius and The Sigh, screening at Bangkok's SF World Cinema as part of the Extra Virgin Director's Screen Series.

The opener is Phuket, a 30-minute short that tourism-business concerns on the southern Thailand resort island commissioned from Aditya. I'm assuming they were attracted by the strength of his much-acclaimed feature debut, Wonderful Town, which vividly captured the small, isolated town of Takua Pa in neighboring Khao Lak Province.

But rather than making a glossy commercial for the Pearl of the Andaman, Aditya had free rein to make his kind of movie, which means Phuket is a bittersweet, funny and melancholy portrayal of a South Korean actress (Lim Soo-jung from I'm a Cyborg But That's Okay) trying desperately to have a vacation.

She is harried by phone calls from her agent back in Seoul, and by a chirpy Thai "assistant" and screaming fans. She gets no peace.

Ferried around the island in a Mercedes limo, the backseat of the car seems the safest place.

The driver is played by Sorapong Chatree, the veteran leading man who starred in just about every Thai film made in the late 1970s and 1980s. He develops a fatherly bond with the actress, who relates her memories of visiting the island with her father when she was a child in 1985. He shows her a side of Phuket's unvarnished non-touristy culture, which includes a trip out on a fishing boat.

"Where are we?" she asks.

"In the middle of the ocean," says the driver Pong.

No people, no crowds.

There's a flashback scene to the actress Jin's childhood and her first visit to Phuket. It's a home movie that's all flickering and super-saturated color. Adding more wistful old-timey flavor is 1950s singer Pensri Poomchoosri singing the ballad "Ngaam Chaai Hat" ("Beautiful Beach") – a wink at classic Thai pop culture of the past.

The driver is able to make a connection with another human being – rare contact in a lonely life that is spent in the driver's seat while passengers pass through the back seat and rarely pay him any mind.

The mood lightened with Boy Genius, a 2005 short that was made for the Thai Film Foundation on the occasion of the Ninth Thai Short Film & Video Festival in which the eight previous winners of the festival's R.D. Pestonji Award made a short film that included the festival's symbolic egg.

Filmmaker Sivaroj Kongsakul stars, playing a filmmaker. Now a director in his own right with this weekend's Pusan International Film Festival premiere of his feature debut Eternity (ที่รัก, Tee Rak), Sivaroj has often been a go-to guy when his friends in Thailand's indie film community needed an actor or comic-relief character for their movies.

In Boy Genius he is trying to make a serious black-and-white art film with his little video camera, spurring on his crew and actor with cerebral quotes about filmmaking from the great directors.

His backyard production is hampered by his girlfriend, who in simply trying to do housework, is getting in the shot while hanging laundry, or ruining takes with the noise from the vacuum cleaner.

She can, however, cook a fine omelet, and at the end of the day that's all that really seems to matter.

The Sigh, from 2006, stars Sarawut Panta, who played the actor in Boy Genius. He's a sound man for Aditya's Pop Pictures and in The Sigh he plays a sound man, wandering around the creepy compound of what apparently is an abandoned warehouse or sculptor's studio. With headphones on, he has his tape recorder and microphone, recording the ambiance.

Listening to the day's recording that night at home, he hears a woman's sigh. Then, with his oddball friend (Sivaroj again), he heads back to the warehouse to find that woman. The pair instead make an astonishing discovery, uncovering a treasure trove of old films.

Indeed, the short was shot at the compound of the Thai Film Archive, and the office that's stuffed with film cans is that of archivist Dome Sukwong.

It's a mournful statement on Thailand's films of the past, the vast majority of which are dissolving and fading away. But the sighing woman is there. Film is not dead. No yet anyway.

Boy Genius and The Sigh form the first two entries in Aditya's Boy Genius Trilogy, all dealing with pretty smart young men. I hope to someday catch the third entry in the series.

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