Sunday, January 22, 2012

9th WFFBKK review: P-047

  • Directed by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee
  • Starring Aphichai Trakulkraiphadej, Parinya Kwamwongwan
  • Thai premiere at the World Film Festival of Bangkok, January 21, 2012; no rating
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 5/5

Fragments of memories, identities, possessions, sights, sounds and smells are toyed with in P-047 (Tae Peang Phu Deaw, แต่เพียงผู้เดียว), the latest feature from Kongdej Jaturanrasamee.

Since premiering last year at the Venice festival, where it was a last-minute, out-of-competition selection, P-047 has been met with praise, and it lives up to the hype, though hype is probably too strong a word it, because it's only from people who regularly go to film festivals who have seen this weird movie. Quirky is another term that's been used to describe it, and I'd agree with that. But think quirky not in the precious way of say, Wes Anderson or Napoleon Dynamite but grittier and trippier, like Charlie Kaufman or Michel Gondry.

As it's been explained in the synopsis circulated at various film festivals, the story is about a locksmith and his friend who break into homes and "borrow" the absent occupants' lives. They don't steal, not anything that would be missed anyway. They wear surgical gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints, bring their own towels and trashbags and clean up after they are done sampling the homeowners' wine, listening to their music, play their pianos, watch their TVs, use their showers, wear their clothes, etc.

Lek (strong-yet-vulnerable Aphichai Trakulkraiphade), the locksmith, and his buddy Kong (wickedly subversive Parinya Kwamwongwan) are guys who live in a basically hidden world. Lek's key-cutting stall is one of those places you see in the entryway between the shopping mall and the carpark, at the back of the building by the elevators. Kong's magazine stall is next to the locksmith's. Kong, an aspiring writer with a love for spy novels, thinks he's found a use for Lek's skills of picking locks. Unless you need a key copied or the latest issue of Gossip Star magazine, you don't even notice these people. And it's from their anonymous position in the social strata that they are able to observe others and notice their routines.

But things go awry after Kong prys too far into an apartment owner's personal life.

There's all kinds of different strands here that go off in wild directions. There's a forest thriller that recalls the recent work of Kongdej's contemporaries Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Pen-ek Ratanaruang. And a hospital sequence, again like Apichatpong. But Kongdej layers his own twisted sensibility on top of those elements and makes them his own.

Kongdej got his start directing a sex comedy called Sayew about a tomboyish teenage girl who goes to work writing for a pornographic magazine. He then directed Midnight My Love, with Mum Jok Mok as a taxi driver who gets into a relationship with a massage-parlor lady. Rooted in old-time Thai music and movies, Midnight My Love went off the rails with surrealism that hasn't been seen much since, except for maybe Apichatpong's Uncle Boonmee and now P-047. Kongdej also made a movie about a three-armed man falling in love with a large-breasted woman called Handle Me With Care, but it was a little too commercial, if you can believe that. He's also been a screenwriter for hire, most notably on the Ananda Everingham vehicle Me ... Myself, about an amnesiac transvestite cabaret dancer.

P-047 is Kongdej's first foray into independent filmmaking away from the big studios like Sahamongkol and GTH. He's had to bow and scrape for cash like rest of Thailand's indie directors, cobbling together funds from various sources just to get prints of the film made. It may not be as flashy as a Spize Jonze film but the imagination is there.

The best special effects are low-tech, like a potato-chip-eating peacock or a fragmented archival clip from an old Thai film called Charming Bangkok, dug up from the rubble of a certain burned cinema by an olfactory-obsessed character. Like Midnight My Love it reflects Kongdej's admiration and acknowledgement of Thai cinema's past.

It's hard to write about P-047 without feeling like you're spoiling it. So maybe there ought to be a rule about P-047: don't write too much about P-047. And a second rule about P-047: don't write too much about P-047.

And yet, I've probably written too much.

And what's the title mean anyway? You'll have to see it to find out.

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