Handle Me With Care

Bottom line: A romantic road movie armed with a novelty idea but mutilated by a straggling plot and corny situations.

"Handle Me with Care" (Thai title means "hug") holds out an attention-grabbing idea: a three-armed man's quest for love and (self) acceptance. But in dramatizing his dilemma about guarding personal uniqueness or blending in with the crowd, the film flounders with the same hesitation about its own identity.

Director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee is in two minds about turning his script into Jim Carey-like slapstick, a candy floss romance with a dash of magical fantasy, or an offbeat road movie. He handles none of these generic variations with enough care, leaving each dangling like an unwanted arm. A faintly haunting, soulful mood emerges toward the end, but then the plot recourses to a jingoistic conclusion, exacerbated by MTV song with syrupy lyrics. The biggest visual startle may be the "arm double" provided by a real person rather than CGI.

Handsomely produced by Thai movie giant GHT with two youthful, dishy leads supported by spirited cameos, the film won't be a total flop in limited theatrical release. The director's reputation as scriptwriter for some well-known commercial hits like "Tom Yum Goong" and light comedies "Noo Hin: The Movie" and "Me Myself," as well as his own mellifluous "Midnight My Love," may prompt Asian film buffs to check out his new film.

The film starts off with a wacky narrative sequence as a man jogs along a breathtaking lake, only to return home to an accidental death. We realize in retrospect that he is the tailor Tawee, an absent but important presence in the life of Kwan (Kiatkamol Lata), an otherwise ordinary postal clerk if not for having three arms. The first half-hour, which brings to life the parochial setting of a central-northern Thai town, keeps the mood buoyant with cheeky skits that encapsulate Kwan's predicament: He performs astonishing gags of multitasking, and is prized at work for his speed in sorting mail. However, he is unlucky in love as no girl can stand pressures of dating a "freak."

Tawee's death, which means no more three-sleeved shirts for Kwan, prompts him to go to Bangkok for amputation surgery. Kwan hitches a ride with coach-driver Lorlee, a scamper with a trail of gambling debts behind him. On their way, they rescue busty Na (Supaksorn Chaimongkol) from attempted rape by a policeman.

When Lorlee's debtors catch up with him, Kwan and Na continue their journey and fall in love to the tacky pop song of her mobile ringtone. The narrative stalls as soon as Kwan hits the road. Side-tracks like a tree allegory just reiterate the same themes of social ostracism and longing for love. The arm stunts lose their novelty, and only Kwan's final decision achieves some emotive effect.

Credits: Writer-director: Kongdej Jaturanrasamee; Producers: Jira Maligool, Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, Cherchonnee Soonthornsaratul, Chanajai Thonsaithong; Director of photography: Naruphol Chokanapitak; Music: Hualumpong Riddim; Editor: Patthamanadda Yukol. Cast: Kwan: Kiatkamol Lata; Na: Supaksorn Chaimongkol.
No MPAA rating, running time 119 minutes.