Saturday, June 4, 2011

Review: White Buffalo

  • Directed by Shinoret Khamwandee
  • Starring Patarapon Tua-on, Anusara Wanthongtak, Luafah Mokjok, Rungrawan Tonahongsa
  • Released in Thai cinemas on May 12, 2011; rated 13+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Fractured stereotypes blend with mixed metaphors in the country comedy White Buffalo (E-Nang Ei Khoei Farang, อีนางเอ๊ย...เขยฝรั่ง), which examines the phenomenon of the dusky women of Isaan getting hitched to pale-skinned foreigners.

Singer “Ron AF5” Patarapon Tua-on stars as a young man who returns to his Northeastern village after failing his English course and flunking out at university in Bangkok. Mark is shocked to discover that the women back home are crazy about farang men, and the white-skinned fellows are everywhere. There's even one working in the market, sweating away and talking up a storm in the Isaan dialect as he grinds up a spicy somtum.

Mark still has feelings for his boyhood crush, Waewdao (singer “Preaw AF2” Anusara Wanthongtak). Her shrewish mother, who harbors a long-standing grudge against Mark, wants her daughter to have nothing to do with him. She's hoping to marry Waewdao off to an elderly Westerner.

Scripted by Sumitr Thiangtrongjit and helmed by first-time director Shinoret Khamwandee, White Buffalo was chosen from the Thailand Script Project four years ago and developed by Sahamongkolfilm International. It also received backing from the Culture Ministry's "Strong Thailand" fund.

Though the script was already pretty commercial, producers at Sahamongkol sought to make the movie even more bankable by focusing more on the comedic elements of the story. With slapstick pratfalls and scatological gags, White Buffalo has a similar feel to it as Mum Jokmok's Yam Yasothon movies.

A lot of time is spent with Mark just sitting around with his old buddies, drinking white liquor and trying not to vomit.

The story jumps around in fits and starts.

Mark, riding around the village on his white bull water buffalo, woos Waewdao, who plays hard to get and insults Mark at every turn, showing him the bottom of her foot. Then she just gives in.

And then it's on to the next plot point, which involves one of Mark's drinking buddies (comedian Luafah Mokjok), whose hairdresser wife leaves him for a farang living in Bangkok.

Another local lass (Rungrawan Tonahongsa) plays hard to get with a farang who's been calling and writing and finally comes to visit. The sweet guy turns up dressed like a farmer to help her in the sugarcane patch and eventually wins her heart.

Meanwhile, Mark and his drinking buddies hatch a scheme that they hope will prevent Isaan women from ever marrying another foreigner. It involves building a sufficiency-economy farm, and they have to work hard to accomplish their goal.

Ironically, the men's plan also involves Mark having to learn English, so he can talk to the farang and learn how they think.

Stereotypes are reinforced and then clumsily shattered. Farangs are all wealthy and treat their wives better. They live in Western-style houses and drive nice cars. Except some farangs aren't so rich, and they are abusive. One the other hand, Issan men are poor, lazy, drink too much and pay no attention to their wives. But then some wives spend their days gossiping, are greedy and go sneaking around behind their husbands' backs.

Mark goes charging around on his big white bull buffalo, the symbolism of which is potent even if I can't quite explain why.

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