Tag Archives: LGBTQ

Ginie Reviews Films: The Love of Siam

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Film: The Love of Siam (รักแห่งสยาม)
Director: Chookiat Saveerakul
Year: 2007
Notable Actors: Mario Maurer, Sinjai Plengpanich
Rating: 4.5/5

So I’ve been meaning to write this review for a long time, but to be honest: it had been a long time since I’d last seen this film and I was afraid I wouldn’t do justice to it. Thankfully, my mum gave me a reason to whip it out and as I sought to prove a.) that the Thai movie industry does produce some amazing films and b.) while still a minority of the LGBT representation in Thai pop culture, Thai media is totally capable of representing its gay characters with sensitivity and complexity.

~*Spoilers*~

The Love of Siam follows the story of two childhood friends who reunite in their teens after several years of separation. Tong is from a Roman Catholic family, and as a child his older sister disappeared whilst on holiday in Chiang Mai with her friends. Mew is a sensitive musician-type from an ethnically Chinese family with distant parents. He is closest to his grandmother, who passes away when Mew is in his teens.  Both boys are familiar with losing a loved one and this is what initially brings them together. Their story is further complicated by issues within Tong’s family – since his sister’s disappearance his father has turned towards chronic alcoholism and it is his mother, Sunee, who has to keep it together despite the tragedy as she becomes the sole caretaker and bread-winner of what is left of her family.

Mew and Tong as children,

Mew and Tong as children,

So…not your average teen romantic comedy. Despite the way the film was marketed, the Love of Siam really is just what it says on the tin – it’s about love. All kinds of love. It’s about the love you have for your family, the love you have for your friends and of course, the love you have for the first time you meet someone who touches your soul and sets your heart racing. I’m not going to lie – I tear up every single time I watch this film. Every single time. And although my knowledge of Thai films is by no means extensive, I feel like I watched a significant handful of recent blockbusters and The Love of Siam for me still ranks as one of the best Thai films I’ve ever seen.

First of all, the acting in this film is flawless. I don’t think there is a single weak performance amongst the main cast, although Pchy (Mew) and Sinjai Plengpanich (Sunee) deliver some particularly outstanding performances. Seriously though, both of these two just break my heart every time they’re on screen and just trying to hold it together. This is also of course, the role that launched Mario Maurer’s acting career and it’s certainly one that shows despite being (at the time) an amateur, the boy is definitely more than just a pretty face.

Secondly, although the running time is very long I feel the film really benefits from showing how the lives of these two broken families intertwine, how all these characters interact and the lasting impact they have on each other. While the focal point of the film is on the two boys who’re just coming to terms with their feelings for each other, there is a much wider story being told – after all, life doesn’t just stop happening because you’ve fallen in love. And sometimes, there are bigger things going on that just can’t be put aside.

Really, I think my only complaint with this film would be the role June’s character plays in the narrative. As a dead-ringer for Tong’s missing sister Tang, she gets recruited by Tong and Sunee to pretend to be Tang in an attempt to save Tong’s father from his crippling alcoholism. I guess this was the point where my disbelief officially stopped being suspended. I don’t know what else could’ve been done with this character to make her story-line more believable while keeping the lasting impact she has on Tong’s family, but as it is in the film it is the only thing that rings false to me.

Mew performing at the end of the film.

Mew performing at the end of the film.

I know I’ve read reviews that saw the ending as a bit of a cop-out, as Tong ultimately tells Mew that although he loves him, he cannot be his boyfriend (earlier on in the film when his mother discovers the nature of Mew and Tong’s relationship she forbids Mew from contacting her son and forbids her son from seeing Mew). I can completely understand this reaction – it’s an old and worn-out trope: gay couples can never have a happy ending; things must always end in tragedy. But in defence of The Love of Siam, I actually interpreted the ending as fairly optimistic? I don’t think people necessarily understand the amount of importance placed on duty to one’s parents in Thai culture, and as far as Tong was concerned – he had a duty to his mother and to his family. Growing up with a Thai mom, I have to say that the relationship between (most) Thai parents and their kids, particularly regarding sexuality, is a pretty closed one and my personal experiences have always involved being very patient about when and how I broach the topic with my mom. I’d always understood the ending of the movie as Tong wanting to help his family heal first, help them get to a better place before he could act on his feelings for Mew. Perhaps I had interpreted it too optimistically – but I had always seen that ending as an ambiguously happy one. “I know who I am – and although I cannot be with you yet, one day I will be able to”, or maybe even “I know who I am – and although I can’t have a boyfriend yet, one day I will be able to be open about my feelings for another boy, and that boy may not be you but he will definitely exist”. I had never interpreted that final scene as him repressing his new-found sexuality. Particularly as he had just broken up with his girlfriend prior to the ending scene. By breaking up with his girlfriend, Tong was affirming – at least to himself – that he knew who he was now and he knew that he had to be honest with himself. He was no longer confused about where he stood and was free to admit to himself (and to Mew) that he knows who he loves. I could not believe that anyone who had taken such a self-confident act could deny himself his own happiness forever. And I had always interpreted that scene as an indication that Tong would have to wait for his happiness a little bit longer, but he would definitely get it one day. But of course, I could be wrong and I am always happy to hear alternative view points.

This was Mario Maurer's break-out role. Here he is as Tong at the end of the film looking for Mew after breaking up with his girlfriend.

This was Mario Maurer’s break-out role. Here he is as Tong at the end of the film looking for Mew after breaking up with his girlfriend.

Watching this with my mom I thought I’d observe her and see what she had to say, as I usually use her as my gauge for whether I’ve understood the subtext of a Thai setting correctly. At the end of the film, she said “well they are not together today, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be one day.” And that is exactly what I’d taken away from the ending too.  One day I am hoping for an unambiguously happy ending for Thai gay protagonists, but in the meantime I am incredibly glad this film exists and if you’ve never seen it you should definitely check it out.

On an entirely different note: I am also super in love with the main theme song for this film

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Ginie’s Top Ten: Fantasy Fiction with Fantastic Heroines

Anyone who has taken a gander at my website will probably have guessed by now that I do love my fantasy fiction. And you know what else I love? Girls who kick ass and take center stage in epic adventures. This list is by no means exhaustive, and it’s pretty much a personal one. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments for any great books I’ve missed out with great female characters in the lead role!

1.) Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle

This entry won’t surprise anyone who knows me. Dianna Wynne Jones is one of my all-time favourite writers and Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my all-time favourite books – mainly because I love Sophie utterly to bits.

Sophie Hatter is a plain, quite mousey timid girl whose life gets turned upside down when she accidentally challenges the witch of the waste. What I like best about Sophie is that she’s not necessarily a very obvious heroine – yes she’s mousey and has a handsome man fall in love with her, which seems to be the standard set-up for most YA stories/romantic comedies/etc. and yet Sophie’s story is very different from all of that. For a start – she’s an old woman for most of the story, which means that for most of the story it isn’t like she’s all pretty but just doesn’t know it – she’s actually an old woman. I like how becoming an old woman actually liberates Sophie because she feels like she has nothing left to lose and everything to gain by becoming more assertive and forward, and best of all I like the fact that Sophie’s heroism is so understated. She doesn’t brandish a sword or physically kick-ass –  and even when she’s at her most dramatic, nobly stepping aside so that Howl can be with Ms. Angorian because she believes it will make him happy she does it in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s easy to forget just how much she sacrifices in that moment. She’s extraordinarily brave and at the end of the day she is the one to save both Howl and Calcifer.

2.) The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle

I’ve probably said all that can be said about Kate and The Hollow Kingdom in my epically long review here – but to sum up: Kate is a clever and brave protagonist who looks out for her sister and regularly outsmarts the Goblin king. She resists all attempts by her vile uncle and by the Goblin King himself to remove her of her own agency and for all of these things I find her to be a very heroic character. (The less said about the two sequels, the better. I absolutely adored this book and couldn’t believe how disappointing Close Kin and In the Coils of the Snake were.)

3.) Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner

Our first sword-wielding heroine on the list! And also a Katherine. Apparently Kate is a very popular name for girl’s populating fantasy worlds. Anyway, Kate is on my list because aside from being a sword-wielding badass she also matures a ridiculous amount throughout the course of the story, in more ways than one.  I also like that contrary to actually quite a few of the other stories here, Katherine doesn’t have a clear love-interest per se, [spoilers] and when she does end up sleeping with Marcus it’s not made out to be like this massive deal. She just did something she enjoyed and felt right doing at the time and that was that. Which I think needs to be done a lot more in YA. Seriously, people make sex out to be like this momentous, terrifying world-changing thing and in a way it is, but once you’ve actually had sex you kind of realise that all in all, it’s not nearly as world-changing as you thought it would be and that you’re very much the same person you were before. If we didn’t make such a big deal out of it all the time it wouldn’t cause nearly so much anxiety for so many girls (myself included, back in the day). [End spoilers] Also yey for LGBTQ representation!

4.) Tithe (Modern Faerie Trilogy) by Holly Black

If you like creepy faery-lore and you like urban fantasy you should go out and get this book now. Tithe tells the story of Kaye, who has always been able to see faeries since she was little, her discovery that she’s actually a changeling and how she ends up embroiled in a political plot between the Seelie and Unseelie courts. Anyway, what I like about Kaye is that  she’s flawed, but she’ll always call others (and herself) out on their bullshit. Also more LGBTQ representation!

5.) The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip

Changeling Sea is a nautical fairytale, of course I’d adore it. Peri grew up by the sea, and has always resented it for taking away her father and driving her mother into deep depression. Little does she know that she’s about to become much more familiar with the sea-folk and it’s denizens, including a pair of mistaken princes. Peri is resilient, curious and brave – though I remain unconvinced by the love story.

6.) Matilda by Road Dahl

I’m including Matilda on the fantasy list because of her telekinesis – and also just generally because how awesome is Matilda and how much did I want to be Matilda as a kid? (Answer: a lot). She’s crazy-smart, she loves books and she stands up for herself – even against bigger foes like her parents and Miss Trunchbull. What’s not to love?

7.) The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

It was honestly a very long time ago since I read this book, but I do remember liking it and Aerin (the heroine) does fight a lot of prejudices to go on and become a sword-wielding dragon-slayer. ‘Nuff said.

8.) Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

Fire and Hemlock is a modern re-telling of Tam Lin, and true to legend it is the up to the heroine (in this case Polly) to save her beloved Tam Lin from the clutches of the Faerie Queen and her court.  As with anything involving faeries, it isn’t enough just to be brave – you also have to be cunning, because outwitting them is your only means of survival and Polly does just that; despite a whole host of other real-world issues such as a disintegrating family life and the fact that the faerie-folk have messed around considerably with her memory. Interesting FYI about this book, DWJ was very conscious that while she wanted a female heroine she didn’t just want to write a girl into a traditional “boy’s” part. And this  is why DWJ is awesome. Because strong female characters are well-rounded and defy stock-character-types and tropes.

9.) The Dalemark Quartet by Diana Wynne Jones

There’s a lot of Dianna Wynne Jones on this list. I feel like some of her lesser-known work needs more love, and just generally I love her stories. The Dalemark Quartet was my favourite for the longest time – the story covers different time periods and spans four books with a rich cast of characters, a believable country and landscape that (unlike some fantasy novels) has all the political and cultural complexities of a real country; and a pantheon of gods that are every bit as fascinating and multi-faceted as the pantheons that exist in the real world. I think what I also like about Dianna Wynne Jones is that she doesn’t shy away from unlikeable characters  – like actual people they always have a sympathetic side, it’s true, but she never falls into the trap of giving them some sort of “redemption” and they’re all the more realistic for it. Notable heroines include: Tanaqui and Maewen.

10.) Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marilier

Set in Transylvania and based largely off the fairy-tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Wildwood Dancing tells the tale of a girl called Jena and her four sisters. While their father is away, he has left his estate in the care of his two eldest daughters – but when her father unexpectedly dies, their uncle steps in and relieves the girls of their responsibility, deeming them unfit to manage their own estate. Intrigues occur when the balance between the villagers, the creatures of the woods and the creatures of the night is disturbed. Basically this is an adventure involving Transylvanian legends, faeries and vampires, a talking frog and the awkwardest (read: cute) budding love-story ever.

And that’s it! My top ten. I realise there are some massive gaps, like I’m sure a few of you will cry “but how about Hermione?” (alas, she isn’t the main character of the story) or “where’s Lyra?” (alas, I’ve never read His Dark Materials – blasphemy, I know. But you want to know what’s funny? I’ve read every single other of Phillip Pullman’s novels. No joke.) All I can say is once again that this is quite a personal top-ten (also limited by what I actually remember – most of these I’ve read in the last couple of years, with only a few exceptions). Honourable mention goes to Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy, that I actually really love and find fantastically creepy but refrained from putting on this list because if I were to be honest I find the girls very dislikeable. This isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case I also found the friendship between the girls hard to believe – they’re almost always absolutely vile to each other, I find it hard to see why they’d bother remaining friends.

Also: Twilight will never be on this list. That is all.

Ginie

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