Friday, December 21, 2012

Review: Super Salaryman (Yod Manut Nguen Duen)

  • Directed by Wirat Heng
  • Written by Wirat Heng, Thirawat Anuwatudom, Phongset Laksamiphong
  • Starring Jessadaporn Pholdee, Natchalai Sukkamongkol, Sakuntala Thianphairot, Settapong Piengpor, Jirapa Wongkosawan, Theeratorn Siriphunvaraporn
  • Released in Thai cinemas on December 5, 2012; rated 13+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5
From my own experience working in a Thai office, the quirky workplace practices of Thai cubicle drones are humorously and accurately depicted in Super Salaryman (ยอดมนุษย์เงินเดือน, Yod Manut Nguen Duen).

It's that Thai philosophy of sanook (fun) that pervades the country's corporate culture, in which socializing, snacking, surfing the web, taking smoke breaks – doing as little actual work as possible – is the rule. After all, there should be fun involved when outside the office, the generally low-paid workers face a life of torturous, hours-long commutes in crowded minivans.

In Super Salaryman, a comedy-drama from Work Point Entertainment and released by Sahamongkolfilm International, the employees of a beverage manufacturer must band together and push through a big project if they are to earn their coveted year-end bonus – the entire reason for being in the Thai corporate world.

"Tik" Jessadaporn Pholdee leads the ensemble cast. He's Pan, the hard-driving, no-nonsense company director, whose eye is always on the bottom line and looking toward a secure future.

But his orderly routine is disrupted by orders from the top. With just three months left before the end of the year, he and his team are tasked with coming up with a new drink brand or else he and his staff won't get their bonus.

Pan's tidy life is thrown into further disarray when he's assigned a new secretary Waai (new-face actress Natchalai Sukkamongkol), a daughter of a friend of the boss. She's a free-spirited, fun-loving aspiring artist. She doesn't even need to work, but has taken the job to gain experience. She is loved by her new co-workers, but her disorganized manner clashes at first with the uptight Pan.

The story bounces around as it focuses on a handful of other characters:

  • Nan (Sakuntala Thianphairot), a veteran female employee who has reached the glass ceiling in her current career. She'll have to leave the company if she wants to continue moving up. She pals around with a gaggle of other office gals, including a chubby woman who is always eating.
  • Jeu (Settapong Piengpor), a young trainee who, for the sake of his upcountry mother, is pretending to be a high-ranking junior executive. "Hold on mom, I've got go. My driver is here," he tells her on the phone. He then jumps onto the back of a motorcycle taxi.
  • Nuon (Jirapa Wongkosawan), the long-suffering secretary to the big boss Annan. She endures long van rides for her commute, and works late hours tending to her boss's every whim, from taking on more job assignments to making late-night deliveries of New Year's gift hampers to clients.
  • Chai (veteran actor-director Theeratorn Siriphunvaraporn), a senior manager who is obsessed with saving energy. He makes sure all the lights and computers are turned off and frets over the waste of copier paper. He also has his eye on the vacated job of human resources manager.

Super Salaryman starts off funny and full of energy. In its own way is a bit of a Thai version of Mike Judge's cult classic Office Space, with a quirky cast of sad-sack cubicle dwellers and passive-aggressive dickhead bosses. A one peculiarity that's highlighted is the Thai penchant for wearing plush-animal bedroom slippers around the office instead of your street shoes.

However, toward the end, the story veers into syrupy melodrama as Pan and his Bohemian rich-girl secretary form a friendship and learn things from each other.

Strong performances make it worth watching. Especially good are the supporting roles, particularly Theeratorn in a solid dramatic role as the penny-pinching energy miser, Jirapa on her long taxi and van commutes and Settapong as the trainee, who strikes up a stairwell-smoking friendship with an English speaking female office worker.

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