Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review: She

  • Directed by Sranya Noithai
  • Starring Penpak Sirikul, Ann Siriwan Baker, Apassaporn Saengthong, Kitchya Kaesuwan
  • Released in Thai cinemas on March 22, 2012; rated 13+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Social-issue movies were popular in Thailand back in the 1970s, but with audiences lapping up a steady diet of silly comedies, the more serious films aren't made much these days.

There was hope for a movie like She though, after a similarly themed romance, Yes or No, So I Love You, went viral to become a cult hit in 2010. Yes or No was about female college roommates who overcome their differences and fall in love.

She (เรื่องรักระหว่างเธอ, Ruang Rak Rawang Ther), "based on true stories of Thai women", deals with slightly more-mature lesbian lovers – a wealthy businesswoman hooking up with a younger female photographer, and a magazine columnist who strikes up a relationship with her tomboy neighbor.

With a fine cast, led by the strikingly ageless 50-year-old model-actress Penpak Sirikul as the businesswoman, and handsome-looking production values, She looked poised to capture the same audience that loved the cute girls in Yes or No.

But She: Their Love Story, as the official international title goes, hasn't quite caught on yet, and has performed only modestly at the Thai box office. It became harder to find just one week after its March 22 release, when it went head-to-head with Hollywood's The Hunger Games and the Thai 3D horror blockbuster Dark Flight 407.

The problem with She is that it's overly melodramatic and moves a bit slower than its 90-minute running time would suggest.

What's supposedly the main story focuses on Penpak's businesswoman divorcing from her husband of many years and leaving him and her teenage daughter behind to live full time at her luxurious seaside resort. There, she catches the eye of a lesbian freelance photographer (Ann Siriwan Baker) who's been hired to take pictures for new brochures.

Freed from her marriage, she casts her inhibitions to the ocean breeze and begins a new relationship with the lantern-jawed lady shutterbug. But there's a hidden reason why Penpak has left her family, and it all comes out in a tirade of shouting and crying.

The "B" plot actually has more to say. And it's supposed to provide relief from the heavier goings on at the resort, but it too gets weighed down in messy, overwrought melodrama. It starts out lightly comic though, with a young magazine columnist named Da (Apassaporn Saengthong) arriving at work to find that her ex-boyfriend has e-mailed their sex video clips to all her colleagues.

Her editor thinks the disgraced Da can bounce back by embarking on a new project – writing about lesbian romance from a first-person viewpoint. Da, a typical girly-girl, is at first horrified. Turns out, conveniently, she lives across the hall from a tomboy, and screws up her face in revulsion when she sees her neighbor Bee (Kitchya Kaesuwan) kissing another woman. She calls it "unnatural", among other slurs. But later on the nosy reporter Da turns on the charm when she invites Bee to a dinner of microwaved meals from the 7-Eleven.

Bee, who looks like a handsome young man, takes Da to a lesbian bar, where Da is picked up by a particularly "hard tom" who takes Da back to her place and attempts to rape her while wearing kink gear of bunny ears and a ballet tutu. But after that surreal bit of comedy-drama, the B-story turns heavy as Da re-evaluates her feelings for the sensitive Bee.

The relationship of this mismatched pair moves unbelievably fast, given Da's initial homophobia. Eventually it's Bee who tries to make sense of things, telling Da that she's bound by too many rules.

As for the main story, I've heard the theory that Penpak's character is a closeted lesbian who was trapped in a marriage and raising a family for two decades. But I am not sure that is the case. And perhaps there are more nuances in the dynamics of the relationships that I'm not picking up on.

On the positive side, Penpak's character's husband turns out to be a swell guy who just wants her to be happy – better than the disapproving mother-in-law or the angry, petulant teenage daughter.

Love scenes are fairly steamy, perhaps too much for the 13+ rating given by censors, but then again maybe not.

The two stories aren't in any way linked, though attempts to do so are made, with the B-story characters turning up at the Pattaya resort, and later viewing photos taken by the photographer.

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