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Ginie Reviews Film: Antapal

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Film: Antapal, aka The Gangster (อันธพาล)
Director: Kongkiat Khomsiri
Year: 2012
Notable actors:  Krisada Sukosol ClappSomchai KemgladSakarin Suthamsamai
Rating: 3/5

Kongkiat’s vision of 1950s Bangkok is super stylish and initially presents a seductively cool image of what it means to be a gangster or antapal (‘hooligan’) in 1950s Bangkok. Like the two newcomers in the film (Plak and Tong), viewers are initially seduced by the stylish clothes, effortless confidence and action-packed fight scenes – but as in all gangster movies, nothing is what it seems and the film very quickly reveals the grim reality of being an antapal.

The main story follows Jod (played by Krisada Sukosol Clapp), a jaded gangster who, following a stint in prison, wants to get out of gang life but seems to be pulled back in despite his best efforts. Parallel to this story is the story of the aforementioned newcomers, Plak and Tong (Kritsada Suphapphaphrom and Sakrin Suthammasamai), their idolization of Jod and his crew as young teenagers and their own destructive and tragic path into the world of gang warfare as adults.

What I really love about this film is the sense of everything coming and going in cycles, and of themes being repeated and mirrored in the stories of different characters. The film chronicles the changes in gang crime between the 50s and 60s (the movement away from knives as the main weapon to guns) and is interspersed semi-documentary style with modern-day interviews of old-timers recalling what life was like at the hands of these gangs.

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The film really shines when it deals with the internal motivations and lives of its main characters. It’s hard not to feel a sense of pathos at Plak and Tong idolizing gangsters in the same way they idolize James Dean and Elvis Presley. Especially as the further you get into the film, the more you realise that none of these gangsters are actually in control of their own destinies at all. While Plak and Tong admire them for the apparent power and respect they command, behind the scenes you realise that the gangsters are just hired muscle – the real power lies with the mafia and the businesses that control them and that they’re merely pawns in a wider game.

The brutality of the violence in this film has been noted by many reviewers – I have to admit I don’t know how I feel about it and I can’t always tell how serious it is. It’s clearly there to show the brutal reality of a life of violence and how much damage and hurt it leaves in its wake, but at the same time it’s kind of hard to take seriously when your main character kills another by stabbing them in the jugular with a crab claw.

The other thing that bothers me about this film is the lack of women in it. I understand that this film is about a hyper-masculine micro-society, but characters like Jod have mothers and sisters and women in their lives that they care for and they want to protect. Which is why it’s a shame we don’t get to see more of their perspective – outsiders whose entire lives are disrupted on a daily basis by the brutality of this boys club. In Antapal the women serve mostly as background characters – victims of the violence meted out by the main characters, but not actually characters in their own right with any kind of agency and that’s a real shame.

All in all definitely worth a watch – it’s a flawed film but one that deals with its themes in really interesting ways and really makes you feel for the main characters despite the reprehensible things they end up doing.

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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 Reviews Films: First Love (Thai Film)

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Film: First Love (สิ่งเล็กเล็ก ที่เรียกว่า..รัก aka. A Little Thing Called Love)
Director: Puttipong Pormsaka Na-Sakonnakorn and Wasin Pokpong
Year: 2010
Notable Actors: Mario Maurer, Pimchanok Luevisadpaibul
Rating: 3.5/5

~*Spoilers ahead*~

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).

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