Posted 18 August 2009 - 11:01 PM
Thai art house autuer and innovator, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, has been a beacon of inspiration of his homeland for years. His styles seem to question the very idea of what makes a film what it is. His focus on dailiness as well as spirituality show through quite strongly, as does his knowledge of Thai culture.
(1) Tropical Malady (2004)
Posted 19 August 2009 - 12:27 AM
It is a rare thing to have a film speak to your spirit more than your brain, or even your heart. Weerasethakul has come as close as one can to making the film medium disappear, and did so while trying some refreshingly innovative ideas in narrative structure. The film is shown in two parts, both equal in length, even going so far as a second set of opening credits for part two. While the second part seems a continuation of the narrative , it also seems clear that it serves as an allegory of the first half, using Thai myth and spirituality to describe the feelings of our two would-be lovers. Sound plays a crucial part in this second half, where the 5.1 mix of jungle noises is so complete and detailed, you cannot help but feel completely absorbed in what is happening. He also did a lot of experimenting with dark lighting, and the result is one of the most natural depictions of the night time I’ve ever seen, though as the Second Run extras point out this made a lot of footage unusable. What did survive is more than enough, and combined with all the sound, heart, love, and confusion going on, makes for a completely transparent connection with the soul.
The two boy’s relationship in the first half is tenderly shot, focusing on the brave subtle advances of the soldier (Keng). They share small touches here and there, with plenty of incidental closeness, real “our legs are touching so try not to move” type stuff. This sort of love language is so universally familiar, and brings that kind of powerfully hot sexual tension that most romance films completely overlook. There is an obvious mutual interest coming from the boy (Tong), but also a seeming inability to commit to Keng, giving the impression he will never take Keng seriously. It isn’t that Tong is a straight character, he is very clearly bi-sexual and doesn’t come across as uncomfortable at all. We do however have themes of tradition vs. homosexuality happening, mostly through the scenes of Tong’s mother observing the situation. There is no clear reason as to why she doesn’t approve, but one has to assume she wants Tong to marry a woman and have children. You see a concerned look on her face early in the film as Keng/Tong make cute faces at each other, and she later finds a note in Tong’s pants from Keng professing his love for Tong. She makes her disapproval obvious, but she doesn’t even really need to say anything to Tong as it seems he has already made up his mind about Keng. It is also clear that he likes women too as seen in his ogling of one on a bus early in the film.
It is this difficult situation Keng is in, where he seems damned from the start, that makes up the madness of the spiritual allegory in the second half. We see Keng move on, back to his position of duty in the army, and that places him in the jungle. It isn’t long before he is playing a sort of cat and mouse game with a tiger spirit shaman, a mythical shape-shifter that is played by the same actor that played Tong, now naked and covered with striped tattoos. The two have many run-ins together, all ending with no real closure. There is intense fear shown by Keng, and a frenzied kind of fear from the shaman, but along with that fear is the obsession of both parties to find each other, and perhaps to reach a decision. At some point the question comes up that Keng should either kill the tiger or let the tiger kill him (advice from a talking monkey who happens to be quite convincing). It seems a kind of clear choice that mirrors his dilemma with Tong, his need for closure.
There was also a curious scene where Keng accidentally kills a cow and watches his spirit walk away through the jungle. The scene is just so convincing and powerful, really wrenching a respect for nature out of this viewer. The cow is actually a very sacred animal in Thai culture, and the feeling of deep shame and regret resonates this through scene direction and Keng's reaction. Simply an unreal experience, providing a combination of awe and sadness. The scenes where the shaman's tiger form is finally revealed are quite special, with the tiger and Keng gazing at each other as if acknowledging their situation has no answer. The tiger form also seems to have some significance. While it is earlier mentioned that killing the shaman in his tiger form is the only way to break the curse, the allegory of it all points to the possibility that the tiger form represents a state of Tong, and one that is directly tied to the fate of the boys' romance. It all makes sense in its own way, and if my experience is anything to go by you will know if you’re feeling this film almost immediately. Nothing feels unnecessary, everything attempted seems to work perfectly, this is an exercise in quality unlike I’ve ever seen. If it is possible to be in love with a film, this is it, and I can only hope his other films take such risks. I realize how overly smitten I sound, but this is just impossible to hold this back right now. This gets my highest possible recommendation.
Posted 22 May 2010 - 04:22 AM
That looks excellent. Even the title of the film is moody. He has really embraced the natural dark lighting used in prior films. What an exciting current director he is turning out to be.
I wonder if he will explore the current political conflict at some point. He almost seems too interested in the abstract or the spiritual to tackle it head-on, but maybe he will approach it symbolically.
I figure it is only a matter of time before we see Tony Ja fighting the Red Shirts (or perhaps WITH the Red Shirts?), who will naturally be attacking on ATVs and elephants.
Posted 24 May 2010 - 01:44 AM
So nice to see, and now I want to see his new film so much more. My wife will be very pleased to hear that a Thai director received such an honor. Hopefully an above-average DVD will come of this, maybe even his first entry into the CC.
Posted 31 May 2010 - 04:05 PM
The Unchanging Sea (D.W. Griffith, 1910)
Luk e-san (Son of the Northeast) (Vichit Kounavudhi, 1982)
Women Workers Leaving the Factory (José Luis Torres Leiva, 2005)
The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
Valentin de las Sierras (Bruce Baillie, 1971)
Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984)
Goodbye Dragon Inn (Ming-liang Tsai, 2003)
Satantango (Bela Tarr, 1994)
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Palo Pasoloni, 1975)
Chelsea Girls (Andy Warhol, 1966)
Posted 31 May 2010 - 04:16 PM
Kiss my ass
Posted 25 September 2010 - 09:41 PM
During the Q&A after the screening, Apichatpong tried to answer some of the questions that specifically asked what this or that was or meant but I have a feeling he probably confused the questioners even further. Something I liked that he said was that he basically didn't think the audience needed to know various pieces of information, things that aren't explained in the film. Those who've seen his other pictures will probably recognize that philosophy. Also, at the end of the session he mentioned that several members of the film's crew were excited to experience the festival atmosphere but couldn't afford to pay for it on their own. Their solution was to create an Uncle Boonmee t-shirt and bag and sell them outside the venue to help offset the travel expenses. When I walked out I noticed they were doing good business until some people apparently made them stop selling the stuff. I do hope they find a way and/or place to sell them tomorrow for the other Uncle Boonmee showing at the NYFF.
Finally, when the credits rolled I saw Danny Glover's name listed as a producer, which seemed weird, and then he walked up some stairs outside the hall right past me after the film. I passed Wes Anderson, wearing a Fantastic Mr. Fox suit, and Noah Baumbach also.
Posted 29 September 2010 - 06:05 PM
Posted 29 September 2010 - 06:17 PM
A short film called "The Anthem" played as an introduction to the conversation. In Thailand all movies are preceded by a royal anthem that honors the country's king and is used as a blessing. This short is like a reaction to that, as a means to bless the film that follows and, I think, the audience. It's labeled as an "audio-video purification process" in the credits. I don't know if anyone has been able to watch this short or if it's included on any DVD releases but it's a very exciting piece that plays like a warm-up to a major sporting event. It begins quietly enough with two women talking, one of whom wants to play a song by James and talks about having it blessed. Then cut to a badminton (?) match where the camera moves and moves and moves around the gymnasium or wherever they are as the James song blasts away and you see lighting setups and even Sakda Kaewbuadee wandering around the set. I would be fine if this played before most movies rather than whatever cheesy trailer of the month was attached.
The interview helped me gain a good deal of insight into how the director thinks and works. He's really an interesting, intelligent and well-spoken fellow. Some of the political troubles were touched upon. It seems that after Syndromes was censored by a board that included a film professor who told him that he wasn't a very good filmmaker, Apichatpong became more interested in some things. He said that, as a statement, he showed Syndromes in Thailand with a completely black screen during the several minutes that were censored, instead of simply cutting those scenes out all together. The censor board obliviously suggested he make movies where doctors help people and that he should portray them positively. Thailand now has a minister of culture and he said that this is an improvement in the censorship situation.
Something else of note is that he's a big science fiction fan. He had a museum installation for his Primitive Project which included a very large spaceship he built with several younger people. The spaceship is now in a field somewhere in Thailand. Apichatpong said it's apparently become a place for young people to drink and do various other things but he's glad it still exists out in the open rather than stored in a museum.
Posted 29 September 2010 - 07:05 PM
I noticed a message from the Ministry of Information as I tried to access certain websites while I was there. There also used to be a required blurring out, and sometimes accompanying warning message, of smoking, drinking, pointing guns directly at someone's head, foods on the table that represented some Buddhist taboo, etc. That seems to not be the case any more, because I watched a Thai ghost movie in the theater in 2008 that was quite graphically violent. It caught me by surprise because their older DVDs and general behavior had me believing they were more conservative than that. Good to hear about that inclusion of the minister of culture, that they would actually suggest plot points based on ideals is extremely frustrating.
Posted 29 September 2010 - 07:17 PM
Another politically-related thing that he brought up involved the communists there and how intolerant the Thai government can be. I believe he even mentioned that his own grandfather had been beheaded, though he didn't elaborate. He did say that a monk had posted on Twitter that it was worse to kill time than to kill people like communists. I didn't catch the larger particulars of that comment but still found it disturbing (and Apichatpong was also cited by the censors for his treatment of monks in Syndromes, which he sort of makes fun of in Uncle Boonmee).
Posted 29 September 2010 - 07:31 PM
I asked my wife about the beheading story, and she says it would be very possible that Apichatpong's grandfather was in fact beheaded, but that someone from Apichatpong's father's generation and onward would be fine because that form of execution has since been abolished. Their government seems to change a lot, and all under the same king who now suffers from old age and lives in the hospital.
Posted 30 October 2010 - 09:31 PM
Since there is a lot of Thai dialogue and my view was obstructed about 50 times by people quitting, I didn't get all of the thing... What I got was absolutely stunning though. There seems to be kind of Bergmanesque themes used in a very fantastic and oneiric way. That was quite beautiful and full of audacity... I hope I'll get more next week but its already at the top of my 2010 list...
Posted 31 October 2010 - 07:12 AM
Posted 31 October 2010 - 09:37 PM
I tried to catch it while in Thailand, but the film just isn't that popular in its home country. It kills me that recent US films take precedent over something like Uncle Boonmee, and I was completely prepared (and still excited) to watch it without subs. A similar thing happened to me. John Woo's latest Chinese period action-er Reign of Assassins was playing in Bangkok, and I was totally excited to rub seeing it in the theater in Master's face (), but because there were no subs and I had my brother with me we just saw RED instead. Most films in Bangkok have a separate theater that features English subs, just not this one. Now that I am back in the states I wish I had set aside a day to see it by myself, that would've been a rare opportunity.
Yes that would be cool (to watch either of those films). Of course rubbing it in Master's face will just make him watch more Asian cinema . I've been watching more Thai films just not Apichatpong lately. Will be interesting to hear your opinions on Uncle Boonmee.
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