An introspective, obsessive-compulsive Japanese expatriate named Kenji (Tadanobu Asano) reflects in voice-over the overt absence of motivation for his desire to end his life as he meticulously arranges the requisite accoutrements for his latest suicide attempt: a hangman’s noose strategically rigged towards the center of the hallway so that his lifeless body is visible upon entering the front door, a neat pile of books to stand on and eventually kick out beneath his feet, an obligatory note cradled on the palm of his hand – facing forward – that enigmatically reads “This is bliss”. It is a carefully orchestrated scenario staged for dramatic effect that would soon be abruptly – and rudely – interrupted by the incessant ringing of the doorbell after which he is greeted by his animated and presumptuous brother, a volatile and ill-mannered yakuza named Yukio (Yutaka Matsushige) lying low from his mob boss after having an affair with his daughter, who then hands him a six-pack of beer, a pair of shoes, and a gift-wrapped box that, as he immediately clarifies, is not intended to be a present for him. Continue reading Pen-Ek Ratanaruang – Ruang rak noi nid mahasan AKA Last Life in the Universe (2003)
Taiwan-based Burmese filmmaker Midi Z produces his best work yet with “The Road to Mandalay.” Returning to narrative features after the documentaries “Jade Miners” and “City of Jade,” Z maintains his focus on Burmese exiles with a low-key, high-impact love story about two illegal immigrants with very different ideas about making money and starting a new life in Bangkok. Very well performed by Z’s regular actress Wu Ke-xi and established Taiwanese star Kai Ko (“You Are the Apple of My Eye”), “The Road to Mandalay” is bound to travel far and wide on the fest circuit following a prestigious hat-trick of selections in Venice, Toronto, and Busan. Taiwan and Hong Kong theatrical release is set for Dec. 9. Continue reading Midi Z – The Road to Mandalay (2016)
The unconscious dream state that connects each of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films begins in his latest when frequent collaborator, Jenjira Pongpas (Her characters’ names devolving film to film from ‘Pa Jane’, ‘Jen’ and now simply ‘Je’), stumbles into the frame with her ft. high platform sandal keeping her stumpy left leg in proportion with her right. This familiar image is the proverbial blanket Weerasethakul pulls over his audience, tucking the viewers into his familiar world, allowing for a communal drift into his drowsy landscapes. It’s only a testament to Weesrasethakul’sself awareness as a filmmaker that he has a narcoleptic soldier drop into a lethargic mess as we see him glance upon a movie screen, reflecting how he makes his films onto the characters who inhabit them. This scene, among others, provides a self reflexive exploration of Weerasethakul’s oeuvre, adding to a film that exudes more passion, thoughtfulness and complexity than any of his other major works. Continue reading Apichatpong Weerasethakul – Rak ti Khon Kaen aka Cemetery of Splendor (2015)
On hearing the news of the death of his sister, a Buddhist monk leaves the temple where he has lived for childhood and struggles to adjust to life on the outside as an uncle to a young niece and as a businessman running a hair slaon in a small Thai town in a southern province. He even must learn to ride a bicycle and zip up his trousers without injuring himself. He is confronted by a flood of feelings – sexual, for a woman and family friend across the street; as well as fear and hatred for the Muslims, who he believes is repsonsible for his sisters death and other sorrows in his life. Continue reading Nonzee Nimibutr – OK baytong AKA Baytong (2003)
Interracial love, religious cults, hi-so culture (Thai high society) and an appetite for raw offal enrich and distract Thai auteur Pen-ek Rataranuang’s classic noir about a marriage turned murderous. Mystery and danger percolate in “Samui Song” all the way till the elliptical ending, which leaves audiences with a sense of lingering disquiet. However, there’s a certain spark missing both from the characters and the overall muffled tone. Heading to Toronto after opening the Venice Days section, the film should pique buyer interest based on the enduring popularity of the writer-director’s mid-career work, “Last Life in the Universe” and “Invisible Waves.” Continue reading Pen-Ek Ratanaruang – Samui Song (2017)
A slowly moving camera captures the interiors of various houses in a village. They are all deserted except one house with a group of young soldiers. They are digging the up the ground. It is unclear whether they are exhuming or burying something. The voices of three young men are heard. They repeat, rehearse, memorise a letter to a man named Boonmee. They tell him about a small community called Nabua where the inhabitants have abandoned their homes. The wind blows fiercely through the doors, and the windows, bringing with it a swarm of bugs. As evening approaches, the sky turns dark. The bugs scatter and the men are silent.
A Letter to Uncle Boonmee is part of the multi-platform Primitive project which focuses on a concept of remembrance and extinction set in the northeast of Thailand. Boonmee is the main character of the feature film of the project. Continue reading Apichatpong Weerasethakul – A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (2009)
By the Time it Gets Dark encompasses multiple stories of Thailand whose connections are as spiritual as they are incidental. We meet a pair of actors whose paths take them in very different directions. We meet a young waitress serving breakfast at an idyllic country café, only to later find her employed in the busy dining room of a river cruise ship. And we meet a filmmaker interviewing an older woman whose life was transformed by the political activism of her student years and the Thammasat University massacre of 1976. Continue reading Anocha Suwichakornpong – Dao khanong AKA By the Time It Gets Dark (2016)