Friday, February 10, 2012

Review: ATM Er Rak Err

  • Directed by Mez Tharatorn
  • Starring Preechaya Pongthananikorn, Chantawit Dhanasevee
  • Released in Thai cinemas on January 18, 2012; rated G
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Depending on whether you love it or hate it, GTH's workplace romantic comedy ATM Er Rak Err (ATM เออรัก เออเร่อ) could be called an homage to Office Space or a rip-off of Mike Judge's eminently quotable 1999 cult-classic.

I merely only "like" ATM Er Rak Err, and perhaps "like" is still too strong a feeling, but I'll call it an homage to Office Space anyway, and I appreciated the appearance of a red staple gun and the shout-out to flair-adverse Chotchkie's waitress Jennifer Aniston.

They were welcome diversions from the cloying cuteness of the comedy, which is as typically contrived as any Hollywood rom-com. And probably the folks at GTH will take that as a compliment. Anyhow, this slickly made movie has quickly racked up the Thai industry's benchmark of 100 million baht in box-office earnings, so any criticism is beside the point. The money spewing ATM on the poster is as apt an icon as any for this film.

The setting is the Bangkok corporate offices of a Japanese bank and the set-up is that employees are forbidden from dating each other. I don't know if banking corporations actually have that rule, but whatever, they couldn't make this movie without it.

So cue a hilariously mismatched couple, who are busted after their stupidly-posted Facebook photos from a drunken coupling are found.

The chief enforcer of this policy is Jib (Preechaya Pongthananikorn), a no-nonsense female executive who's worked hard to get her own office and position as overseer of the ATM department. The problem is, the boss lady is dating a guy from the office floor, Suea (Chantawit Thanasevee, who's lanky frame and thick eyebrows were made for comedy). And they've managed to keep their relationship a secret, despite sharing the same car on public roads and eating in the same restaurant (albeit with their backs to one another in separate booths).

Jib is eager to take the relationship to the next level, and so Suea impulsively pulls her through a whirlwind of wedding arrangments, going as far as booking a hotel ballroom for their wedding party on October 31, Halloween night.

But then Jib points out one of them has to quit their jobs, and she automatically assumes it'll be Suea who'll tender his resignation. But Suea insists he never promised he'd quit.

Meanwhile, outside a soccer stadium in Chon Buri, an ATM is being updated with new software by a couple of bumbling workers. They mess it up of course, and go to watch the Thai Premier League football match between the Chonburi Sharks and their beloved Buriram FC.

A kid on a motorbike stops by the ATM to get some cash, and when it spits out double the amount while only debiting his account once, he draws out the rest of his meager savings and calls his loudmouth friend (Chaleumpol "Jack Fan Chan" Tikumpornteerawong). Soon, the entire football stadium empties out and everyone is trying their luck with the malfunctioning ATM.

Back the Bangkok office, Jib and Suea decide that whomever manages to retrieve the wayward cash first gets to keep their job, and so the race is on.

What follows is a diminishingly funny sequence of slapstick gags as Jib and Suea are city fish in the country pond, racing around the small town, trying to find out who has the money.

The increasingly belabored situation has Suea impersonating a police officer as he enlists the aid of the rotund local branch manager, a pickup truck taxi driver (Jack Chaleumpol), his motorbike-riding buddy and the motorbike kid's teenybopper girlfriend – folks who are actually on the list of users of the errant ATM.

It's hard to not think the Bangkok folks are looking down their noses at the provincial rubes in Chon Buri who've blown their windfall of cash on a new motorbike, a gold tooth, a new set of washing machines and a crocodile.

And just how solid a relationship do Jib and Suea have if their jobs at this bank come first?

Aside from the colorful townsfolk, another supporting character is the bank boss' hair-flipping son who thinks he's so smooth with ladies but is really pretty annoying.

The ickiest bit in this movie is a routine the biker kid does with his girlfriend – a pantomime of his cutting out his heart, ripping it from his chest, kissing it, and then throwing it to his gooey-eyed girlfriend, who then pretends to catch it, kiss it and put it in her chest.

Thank goodness for the expression of nauseous disbelief from Jack Fan Chan and the others.

Oh, and a final nitpick. GTH is continuing with the use of "dubtitles" for Thai pop-culture references, with a mention of actress Chompoo Araya A Hargate being translated in the subs as Zhang Ziyi. They are nothing alike, and Thais who read that burst out laughing. So how about this – if pop-culture references must be used (and I guess they must), then consider using parenthesis to explain who (popular Thai soap-opera actress) Chompoo Araya is to international audiences.

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