Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: SuckSeed Huay Khan Thep

  • Directed by Chayanop Boonprakob
  • Starring Jirayu La-ongmanee, Patchara Jirathiwat, Thawat Pornrattanaprasert, Natcha Nualjam
  • Released in Thai cinemas on March 17, 2011; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

SuckSeed doesn't suck. In fact, it's pretty awesome.

The romantic comedy about loser Chiang Mai schoolboys who form a rock band succeeds as it celebrates the underdog spirit in framing an enjoyable and entertaining portrait of failed romance, faulty friendships and shaky musicianship.

Chayanop Boonprakob directs, reviving a concept he first explored as an indie filmmaker making a comical mockumentary about a crappy band that was shown a few years back at the Thai Short Film & Video Festival. He subsequently took a job as a flight attendant for Thai Airways, but landed at film studio GTH when producer Jira Maligool came calling.

The story of SuckSeed Huay Khan Thep (SuckSeed ห่วยขั้นเทพ) traffics in the same nostalgic sentimentalism about childhood as the 2003 GTH hit Fan Chan, and indeed Chayanop has acknowledged it as a major influence.

The movie begins with a long flashback to early boyhood for the main character Ped, a shy kid who is reluctant to get up and sing in school and afraid to reveal his true feelings for the bubbly, popular and talented girl Ern. He does work up the courage to ask Ern for help in singing a Loso song. She loans him a cassette tape and then almost off-handedly notes that she's moving away that weekend.

Ped then uses a borrowed, out-of-tune guitar to wail his own version of the Loso song and tack it onto the end of the tape but botches trying to return it to Ern. He then tells a fib that causes confusion and problems later in life.

Flash forward to their teenage years, Ped (Jirayu La-ongmanee) is hanging out with his long-time buddy Koong (scene-stealing force of nature Patchara Jirathiwat). Koong has always lived in the shadow of his more-talented and popular twin brother Kay, and Kay plays lead guitar in a slick, polished rock band called The Arena.

Partly to try and upstage Kay but mainly to attract girls, the lovable goofball Koong decides he's going to form a band. And Ped, to his astonishment, will of course play bass. The drummer Ex (Thawat Pornrattanaprasert) is chosen for his rhythmic abilities on the basketball court. However the band Koong and Friends is nearly derailed when Ex promptly and painfully breaks his arm attempting a stunt dunk shot.

With the drummer's arm in a cast, they play their first gig anyway, at a children's art fair. With their loud brand of sloppy, blood-spurting pop-punk, pumping out a cover of Moderndog's first hit "Busaba", the power trio only succeeds in scaring the screaming children to tears, but they do gain one fan – Ern, who has returned to Chiang Mai for her senior year in high school.

She likes the heartwarmingly gutsy attitude of Koong and Friends and joins up on guitar.

Ern is played by newcomer actress Natcha Nualjam, daughter of veteran Thai blues axeman Laem Morrison. Shredding comes naturally for her as she blows the boys away with her fiery musicianship and easy charm.

The situation is difficult for Ped, because he still harbors feelings for Ern, and now Koong is in love with her too.

So it's a battle between bandmates over the girl. And it's a battle between bands when Ern jumps ship over to The Arena. Koong and Friends, later dubbed SuckSeed in an animated sequence ripped from the ballpoint-inked pages of a schoolboy's notebook, eventually face The Arena in a music contest in Bangkok.

There's excitment as the SuckSeed boys work on their chops and prepare for the big show, but ultimately the conflict between friends boils over and severely affects the band's performance.

Will Ped and Koong reconcile? What about Ern?

Aside from the music that's actually performed by the actors, SuckSeed is propelled by appearances from top Thai rock and pop acts in stylish music-video vignettes that bolster the story and underscore the emotional moments for the characters.

Pod, the lead singer of Moderndog, serenades young Ped with the song "... Before" ("...ก่อน "), a ballad that was memorably used as a motif in Wisit Sasanatieng's Citizen Dog.

Pu Blackhead turns up in a hilarious music video shot in a market and is complete with slow-motion and freeze moments of the market vendors and Pu mugging for the camera. Blackhead was at its height 10 years ago, but is not quite popular now, so Pu's appearance was a blast from the past.

Other musicians turning up are falsetto-voiced singer Dak from Big Ass, making a leap from a bridge, as well as the frontmen from the bands Paradox and So Cool. Actor-musician "Pe" Arak Amornsupasiri even turns up in a brief shot that had the audience shouting in surprised recognition.

And the rock band Bodyslam, the reigning music act in Thailand at the moment, plays an integral part, with the SuckSeed boys breaking into Bodyslam's music-video session and prompting the anger of cameoing director Ruetaiwan Wongsirasawad. Later, the band's singer and Pepsi pitchman Toon helps to convey a talismanic "pick of destiny" to struggling guitarist Koong.

Oh, and thumbs up for the English subtitles on the Thai theatrical prints – they are clear and do not resort dumbed-down "dubtitles" to get across references to Thai culture. When it's explained there are only two kinds of music in Thailand – Grammy and RS – there are parenthesis to note that they are the country's two biggest record labels.

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