Friday, March 15, 2013

Review: Jan Dara: Epilogue

  • Directed by ML Bhandevanov Devakula
  • Starring Mario Maurer, Chaiyapol J. Poupart, Ratha Po-ngam, Bongkot Kongmalai, Sakkaraj Rerkthamrong, Sho Nishino
  • Released in Thai cinemas on February 7, 2013; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 2/5

Once committed to a direction, Bhandevanov "Mom Noi" Devakula sticks with it, even if it's as dull and predictable as the path he took in the first part of his epic adaptation of the erotic novel of family dysfunction, The Story of Jan Dara.

Jan Dara: Epilogue (จันดารา ปัจฉิมบท), a.k.a. Jan Dara 2, wraps up Mom Noi's two-part take on the tale of a bastard son of a noble family in 1930s and '40s Siam. It follows last year's Jan Dara: The Beginning.

It's a story that sizzles with sex and symbolism about Thai society, so it's really a shame it turned out so stuffy and boring.

One problem is the old-fashioned stagebound direction that veteran dramatist Mom Noi adheres to. Despite a few bravura cinematography moments and the sumptuously detailed art direction and costume design that are trademarks of Mom Noi's movies, it all has the feel of a high-school play. The performances for the most part are campy and overly-dramatic. Instead of conveying emotion, the performances only elicited laughter from the audience.

The chief offender is Mario Maurer, the heartthrob star who is woefully miscast as Jan. He pastes on a mustache in a bid to appear more mature and believable as his character commits acts of adultery and rape, but his puppy-dog eyes and sweet, dopey expression betray him. Scenes that feature him smoking, drinking and lounging about in nothing but a pair of silk trousers (or less) are especially laughable.

In the right hands, the melodramatic Mom Noi acting style is effective. Stealing the show is Mom Noi's go-to character actress Radklao Amradit, portraying the family matriarch. As Jan's grandmother on her deathbed, she speaks her lines powerfully and with hair-raising venom as she tells Jan to claim his birthright and take revenge on his evil stepfather. The singer and stage actress is required to wear heavy aging makeup, as are Mario and his co-star Chaiyapol J. Poupart. But while the guys look hilarious, Radklao pulls it off. She benefits from better lighting than the young actors do in their old-age scenes, but it's also her immense talent that sells it. Here's a thought – if Mom Noi does another literary adaptation, he could do it Cloud Atlas style with Radklao playing all the roles.

As the story goes, Jan has learned the terrible truth behind his birth, sort of. Mom Noi throws a few curveballs at audiences who might only be familiar with Nonzee Nimibutrs's 2001 version of the tale, and gives Jan's parentage a Rashomon twist – only fitting because Mom Noi offered his version of Rashomon in 2011. Each witness to the act has a different story.

Finally figuring out that the sadistic man he thought was his father was in fact his stepfather, Jan returns to his family's Bangkok mansion to take charge. Not only does he take over the family business, give his stepdad  (Sakkaraj Rekthamrong) a stroke and banish him to a locked tower wing, Jan also takes the old man's mistress Bunluang.

Faring a bit better in part two is Ratha "Yaya Ying" Po-ngam who portrays the worldly Bunluang. It was a role previously portrayed by Hong Kong's Christy Chung in Nonzee's version, but Ratha succeeds in putting her own memorable stamp on it.

"Tak" Bongkot Kongmalai, who chewed up the scenery as Jan's doting aunt/stepmother Waad in part one, is for the most part sidelined here. She takes vows as a Buddhist nun, has her head shaved thinks to nifty CGI and finds peace.

Jan, meanwhile, is on the warpath, driven by disappointment and despair. His old sweetheart is gone, and Bunluang ultimately spurns him. Just like his stepfather, who married Jan's mother to save the family's reputation, Jan is forced into a sham marriage with his cousin/stepsister Kaew to cover up an incestuous affair she had, which resulted in her giving birth to a developmentally disabled child.

Kaew is again portrayed by Japanese AV star Sho Noshino. In part one her voice was dubbed, but she underwent Thai dialogue coaching and speaks her lines herself in part two. Her character also undergoes a few changes from Nonzee's version, the most notable of which involves her gluing on a mustache in a seemingly self-aware parody of Mario's character, and in the bloody way she aborts her baby with Jan.

Chaiyapol J. Poupart is Jan's loyal servant and friend Ken. Choosing a path that leads to better karma, his life is filled with happiness and contentment while Jan's, despite all his riches, is not. It's Ken, along with the bombing of Bangkok during World War II, that sort of shakes Jan out of the cycle of hatred and violence that he seemed doomed to repeat.

The sense of dread for Jan is underlined by Chatchai Pongprapaphan's score, which has Godfather-like tones.

The story circles back to the beginning, cutting to modern-day Bangkok with Mario in unconvincing old-age makeup, sitting on a Bangkok park bench in the harsh daylight. He's joined by his friend Ken, also in old-age makeup, and again Jan is reminded that his friend Ken has achieved everything that Jan could not.

A big chunk of Jan's life seems to be missing, with the timeline skipping through a few decades after the war when Jan could have conceivably gotten his life back on track and found happiness. But, apparently, he didn't. Time slipped by and old age crept up. In the end, those Godfather strains play Jan off as he hobbles down the street, whimpering.

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