Film: First Love (สิ่งเล็กเล็ก ที่เรียกว่า..รัก aka. A Little Thing Called Love)
Director: Puttipong Pormsaka Na-Sakonnakorn and Wasin Pokpong
Notable Actors: Mario Maurer, Pimchanok Luevisadpaibul
You know what? A part of me really really loves this movie. It’s funny, it’s sweet and it’s just so very Thai it reminds me of home. But it’s at about the half-way mark that things in this movie start to get a little bit awry and as much as I still love, let’s be honest: there are some pretty problematic things with this movie, not least of which is how the main character has a dramatic change in skin tone as part of her transformation:
To which I’m going to have to defer to Tumblr experts Damn, Lay Off the Bleach. The tale of the “ugly duckling” who changes into a beautiful swan and wins the prince is hardly a new one (hello there, She’s All That!); the fact that this transformation involves highly discernible skin-whitening is well, nothing short of awful. (Seriously, the first time I saw this film I thought they’d changed actress half-way through, she looks like two completely different people). More on this later.
First Love is a Thai teen romantic comedy about a girl called Nam and her crush on senior boy Shone. The film follows her and her three loyal friend through all sorts of funny hijinks as she tries to get P’Shone to notice her while also becoming top of her class so that she might get to go to the States where her dad (who she hasn’t seen in five years) is currently working.
So far so typical right? But genuinely – but I really really loved the first half of this film. Maybe it’s because of the hilarious comedy. Maybe it’s because for at least the first half of the film a part of me genuinely sympathised with Nam and found her and her friends really sweet. Maybe it’s because for the first half of the film, Nam and her friends seemed playfully defiant of the shitty narrow beauty standards they were expected to live up to – even while trying to live up to them. (Hello “makeover” scene! That yellow stuff? Kamin? Yeah, I’ve had that used on my skin before.)
But mainly I think I loved it for the humour, especially Khun Khru Inn:
(Seriously though, I LOVE HER.)
But yeah. There was a line that stuck out to me in particular – a line that is uttered by Nam’s best friend Cheer. While they are waiting to sign up for Khru Orn’s traditional Thai dance show Nam remarks that it’s a waste of time – Khru Orn only ever chooses the most beautiful girls to perform in her show; “white skin, Chinese-looking and all those other qualities!” Her friend Cheer in response says “Hey! We still have to try – the four of us, we might not have white-skin and we might not have Chinese-looking faces. We’re dark skinned but we’re still beautiful, we can be the pioneer generation!” and I just thought that was so awesome. Of course I think the joke here is that none of these girls are remotely what would be considered beautiful by traditional Thai standards, but you know what? Screw you. Cheer is freaking fierce and I love her. And that is my massive massive problem with this movie. It takes this awkward heroine and her shameless but absolutely fierce friends and by the end of the movie manages to remove just about everything that made any of them even remotely engaging to watch.
Over the course of three years Nam changes from “ugly” duckling to beautiful swan (while also miraculously changing to a much lighter skin colour – hurrah for toxic skin-whintening products!) and in the process manages to somehow loose all her personality. While before her pursuit of P’Shone was funny and cute, towards the latter half of the film Nam takes an increasingly passive role in her pursuit of Shone and just allows other people’s actions (Shone’s friend asking her out, Shone going out with another girl) to guide her life. She moons over Shone while allowing life to blow her in every which direction without once taking charge. And that makes her considerably less interesting than the younger girl who at least planned ways in which she could bump into him or speak to him. Not to mention at the beginning of the film there’s this running joke of how girls pretend to sprain their ankles to get the attention of boys like P’Shone – it’s done so often I can only assume it must be satirical? But by the end of the film our heroine does just that (although I think we’re meant to take it that she actually sprains her ankle rather than pretending – but still). Whereas in the beginning it was an action her and her friends laughed at (“Oh-ho, so drama!”) by the end she is doing exactly the same thing.
For these reasons the second half of the movie is pretty weak.
The ending is by far the worse though. Nine years later Nam is back in Thailand from the USA (where she met her father, did her studies and became an apparently very successful fashion designer). It is on a talkshow that she is reunited with Shone who has been waiting all this time for her to return – revealing that he too, had always been in love with her since the very beginning.
A few thoughts on this:
– She became a fashion designer?? Why? How? There is absolutely NO indication earlier on in the film that she had any kind of artistic talent or inclination outside of performing in Snow White. Shone’s love of photography and football are well-developed throughout the movie, so it is unsurprising that he grows up to become a footballer (and then after he leaves football a photographer) but seriously – there is not indication whatsoever that Nam likes fashion or loves to draw. None.
– In nine years they both loved each other but neither thought to get in touch or call or e-mail or something?? I mean I know she’s in America and all but seriously – skype is free!
But worse of all is the moral that I think we’re supposed to take from the film. Nam tells the talk-show host that all the things she’d done in her life – making herself more beautiful (more white!), studying harder, taking part in extra-curricular activities – all these things she did to “better” herself she did out of love for Shone. Now here’s the thing: I can understand the message that love ennobles us, that it makes us want to be better than who we are. I totally get that and I can even get behind that (though I usually think “bettering” oneself in terms of – oh I don’t know, becoming a more honest, caring and considerate person). But really? Bettering oneself shouldn’t have to involve skin bleach. This is especially insidious considering the massive skin-whitening industry in Thailand that consistently tells Thai women (most of whom aren’t white-skinned) that they look ugly because their skin isn’t fair enough. Also: this was her only life’s motivation? Whatever happened to studying hard so that she could meet her dad? (Apparently that motivation is completely forgotten by this movie who decides to ascribe Nam’s academic achievements to love too).
To conclude, I do love this movie (I know, you wouldn’t have guessed it from the way I speak of it) but genuinely I do. It’s a funny and sweet movie that never fails to make me laugh, but I can’t help but feel that half-way through the director decided to make an entirely different movie, and I have to say I like the second movie considerably less. The second-half is not only boring but pretty much serves to completely undermine the confidence the four girls had in the beginning of the movie with a really awful message. It’s definitely still worth a watch for the laughs, check out the trailer and go see it for yourself (Although YMMV on the skin-whitening thing).