Thailand is celebrating Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives winning the Palme D'Or in Cannes a few weeks back. Apitchapong Weerasethakul certainly brought international acclaim to Thailand at a time when most of the recent news coming from the country had been negative. I couldn't wait to see the movie but some people doubt it would be shown in Thailand pretty soon.
Apitchapong's films have been labeled as inaccessible by local audiences, at least that's what I read in one blog. Many allege his movies are made for festival circuits instead wherein only the serious cineastes could understand his often times surreal films.
Blissfully Yours (2002), which won Un Certain Regard in Cannes; Tropical Malady (2004), which won the Jury Prize in Cannes; and Syndromes and A Century (2006), which won the Golden Lion in Venice.
Despite all these accolades, I could not pretend I like any of his films. I find these movies' story lines rather vague... I don't even know where to begin in describing them. Their technical aspects, however, are very clean and unobtrusive, but other than that, I find his movies incomprehensible. But that's me.
While I haven't seen many Thai films yet, there are three standout Thai movies, however, that I come to mind.
The first is Citizen Dog (2004) by Wisit Sasanatieng. The movie tells the story of a country boy who goes to Bangkok and discovers its eccentricities, including a woman who is stuck with "reading" an Italian book, for whom he develops a fascination. It's a rather quirky movie: people sing in the bus, helmets fall from the sky, and a cute stuffed bear is addicted to cigarettes. The movie is surely going to put a smile on your face as it unravels a boy-meets-girl tale told in a non-conventional way.
Another Wisit Sasanatieng film is Tears of the Black Tiger (2000). Thailand's countryside is the backdrop of this pseudo-cowboy film shot in lush, saturated colors and employing over the top acting. Add to that the uber fashionable cowboys (pink scarf anyone?) as well as the hyper-realistic set, giving the film a good dose of exaggeration and fantasy. Ironically, the film's very gory, but you can forgive the director for that. The violence is a parody of sort, making it an element of the film that's funny rather than repulsive.
Lastly, I also admire Pan-Ek Ratanaruang's Moonrak Transistor (2001), which is a good-old love story between a country lass and a naive boy who adores her. While that part is cute and sweet, the hero is drafted into the army, which eventually led him on the run in the city, only to end up corrupted by it. Despite making a dark turn, the humor of the film saves it from becoming a cliche. The acting, cinematography, and solid pace makes this movie engaging, which makes it my favorite Thai film so far.
While I find notable the three films above, I'm still waiting, however, for a Thai film that just completely blows me away. I heard the documentary Agrarian Utopia is one of a kind, but I cannot get my hands on it and it has not been widely distributed here either. (But then, I haven't seen old Thai movies, and recommendations from the readers are welcome.)
With Uncle Boonmee's win in Cannes this year, I'm crossing my fingers Thai filmmakers would be encouraged to produce more meaningful works, especially in a country that has a rich culture and history that could be inspirations for the younger filmmakers.