Best of Times -- Film Review

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TOKYO -- The love between a widow and a horticulturist in their 70s is the highlight of "Best of Times," a tender and refined romantic drama that evokes old age with dignity. In Asia, the culture's respect for age often results in senior actors being typecast in parental roles. This makes Yongyoot Thongkongtoon's film refreshing within the parameters of mainstream Thai cinema. The elderly protagonists, charismatically played by veteran stars, remain consistently in the limelight, rather than as an interlude or foil for the film's parallel plot of a shy vet's courtship of his best friend's ex-wife.

The film topped the domestic boxoffice for a while and made some festival outings even before being chosen as Thailand's Oscar foreign film entry. It was picked up by a Hong Kong distributor; elsewhere, there is minor potential for a slot on family channels.
Keng (Arak Amornsuphasiri) is a vet sentenced to do social work for drunk driving. He is assigned to teach senior citizens how to use computers. In class, love blossoms discreetly between durian farmer Jamras (Krit Setthathamrong) and widow Somphis (Sansanee Wattanukul).

Their infectious bliss reawakens Keng's longtime crush on his best friend's ex-wife Fai (Yarinda Boonag), who has lately re-entered his life when she sought help in caring for a stray Labrador. However, Somphis is pressured by her son to emigrate to U.S. with them just when Jamras experiences the onset of Alzheimer's.

The senior characters are unconventionally depicted as honest and free of hang-ups regarding their mutual attraction. The scene in which Somphis moves from her bed to share Jamras' mattress on the floor is tastefully handled with suggestive lighting and verbal innuendo, but it unequivocally validates their physical urges.

For a producer-director known for his popular screwball style, like the transvestite sports comedy "Iron Ladies" (the highest grossing Thai film overseas in the late '90s), Thongkongtoon is surprisingly low key in his direction. The script contains no improbable twists of fate or hand-wringing emotional conflict. Even Jamras' mental deterioration is not manipulated as a tragic climax. Instead, the focus is on Somphis' serene acceptance and the new insight on life Keng gains.

The two love stories develop autonomously, but the two generations' perspectives are deftly interwoven to bear upon each others' lives, though the younger couple's segment is weaker. Here and there, Thongkongtoon slips in elements that makes his subject more accessible to a younger audience, like cute gags involving the dog in Keng's and Fai's relationship, or giving MSN and blogs a crucial role in the elderly couple's romance.

Production quality is excellent, especially the visual contrasts between the lush orchard and the hectic city locales, which accentuates Jamras' sense of being uprooted when his illness forces him to live with his son in Bangkok. His plight is poignantly symbolized by his beloved rose apple tree. Like him, it survived a lifetime of adversity only to wither when transplanted to his son's garden.

Venue: Tokyo International Film Festival

Production: Jor Kwang Films, presented by Gmm Tai Hub Company Ltd, Green Wave, Green Channel, True Visions
Cast: Krit Setthathamrong, Sansanee Wattanukul, Arak Amornsuphasiri, Yarinda Boonag
Director: Yongyoot Thongkongtoon
Screenwriters: Vaniridee Pongsittisak, Amaraporn Phaendinthong, Nontra Kumwong
Producers: Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, Jira Maligool, Chenchonnanee Sunthornsantool, Suwimon Dechasupinan
Director of photography: Somboon Phopituckun
Production designer: Akkhadet Kaewkhote
Music: Terdsak Janpan
Costume designer: Akkhadet Kaewkhote
Editor: Pan Busaban
Sales: GTH - GmmTaiHub Company Ltd.
No rating, 117 minutes
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