Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review: The Swimmers (Fak Wai Nai Kai Ther)

  • Directed by Sophon Sakdapisit
  • Starring Juthawut Pattarakamphon, Thonphop Lirattanakhachon, Supatsara Thanachart
  • Released in Thai cinemas on August 7, 2014; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

The title characters in The Swimmers (ฝากไว้..ในกายเธอ, Fak Wai Nai Kai Ther) aren't the schoolboys with chiseled six-pack abs. Nope, the real stars of this movie are sperm, tiny swimmers who deposit themselves in a teenage girl and cause much grief for everyone involved.

Sophon Sakdapisit, largely repeating the success he had with 2011's Laddaland, about a dunder-headed dad who moves his family to a supposedly haunted housing development, The Swimmers pulls Speedos over the eyes of young Thai moviegoers. Plugged by studio GTH's slick social-networking machine, the kids think they are going to see a ghost movie. But it's not – it's a taut psychological drama, with the added horror of being a message movie about teen sex. That's similar to what GTH is doing with its TV series Hormones, now in its second season. It has Thai society jabbering about the pros and cons of the show's depictions of schoolkid promiscuity and partying, no doubt contributing to sales of the special GMM Grammy set-top boxes needed to watch the zeitgeisty show.

Anyway, the story of The Swimmers centers on a love triangle that springs from a big-haired boy named Perth (Juthawut Pattarakamphon), one of the top-ranked members of his high school's swim team. He has eyes for Ice (Supatsara Thanachart), the pretty girlfriend of Tan (Thonphop Lirattanakhachon), a taller, rangier and short-haired rival on the team who is also the closest thing Perth has to a best friend.

After a few tender moments, Ice is splattered at the bottom of the school's drained diving pool, setting up the much-touted premise of a guy haunted by the ghost of a suicidal pregnant girl. A nifty sequence has workmen replacing the smashed pool tiles in fast motion, leaving a slightly darker light blue spot where there was once the corpse of a girl.

With guilt over the death weighing on him, Perth slowly comes apart. He starts encountering the girl's ghost. His buddy Tan, grieving and angry, is determined to find out who got his girlfriend pregnant, and he enlists Perth's help.

Sophon keeps viewers off balance with a plot structure that toggles back and forth from the present to the weeks before Ice's deadly drop.

More distractions and character-building for Perth are added when he gets sexually active (and again forgets a condom) with another girl, the promiscuous Mint (The Voice Thailand season two contestant Violette Wautier). With the time jumps, it's sometimes confusing because Ice and Mint are so scarily similar, they are kind of hard to tell apart.

There's also Perth's somewhat dysfunctional home life, with his single mother always working late and then by chance getting involved with the swim team's coach. He advises Perth to eat one raw egg a day, for the protein. The eggs then become another handy metaphor for pregnancy, and make for cool scenes, such as when Perth goes overboard and eats a couple dozen raw eggs in one sitting.

Perth believes he's pregnant, carrying Ice's baby. "Hey Perth, your six-pack is now a one-pack," a teammate shouts at him in the locker room. And, indeed, Perth's belly appears to be swelling in sympathy to his dead pregnant sweetheart.

The soundtrack by prolific film-score composer Chatchai Pongprapaphan throws in plenty of fake jump scares to ratchet up the tension and keep viewers in knots. The scary soundtrack cues worked on the young Thais who packed a suburban Bangkok cinema for a late weeknight show, but had me rolling my eyes and wondering if the movie would still be as scary without such nonsense. Try it sometime. I think it might be scarier.

But there's more that's good than annoying with The Swimmers, such as a fun jump cut from one home pregnancy test to another. It's another way of keeping the audience off kilter.

Also enjoyable is watching Perth's "frenemy" Tan grow increasingly suspicious. Tan turns detective, trying to recover the data on Ice's shattered phone, setting up a race that has Perth trying to stay ahead and erase damaging evidence from the dead girl's Facebook page. It's another example of how the Internet and text messages are being seamlessly integrated into films, and I guess Sophon does it pretty effectively. At another point, Perth fingers another guy as Ice's lover, and in a spooky abandoned half-built hotel, Tan forces Perth into putting the hurt on the boy.

There are a few other distractions. The story is set in Chon Buri, a seaside setting that is lovely yet otherworldly when compared to the Bangkok or Chiang Mai locales that GTH productions tend to favor. It's a weird place, where the kids are still using BlackBerrys, or are moving straight to Windows phones. And they drive Chevys. Strange.

Also, whose corpse is that hanging in the doorway? And, well, there's other confusing developments.

What's clear though is that Perth is a dark, flawed character, a well-worn element of Western films and TV series but something that GTH has tended to shy away from until recently, with such films as Laddaland, last year's hit thriller Countdown and now The Swimmers. No squeaky-clean teens here.

Goosed along by the prospect of boys who wear less clothes than the girls, The Swimmers has been a big draw in Thai cinemas, earning more than 30 million baht (about $1 million) on its opening weekend and appearing to be well on its way to hitting the studio's celebratory benchmark of 100 million baht.

Going dark is a good thing, GTH. Keep it up.

See also:


  1. Just came back from watching The Swimmers here in KL. I'd say your 4/5 rating is a tad generous, the director seemed to be trying to replicate Laddaland's psychological thriller bits for the sake of the psychological thriller bits. Some of it just doesn't seem to gel with the story.

    PS - I think the hanging corpse in the doorway is Ice's mom, who committed suicide after not being able to deal with her daughter's death.

    1. Yes I also believe that is correct. A very eery and disgusting scene


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