Wonderful Town

Bottom Line: A poetic alternative to studying the psychological scars of Thailand's tsunami.

Pusan International Film Festival

BUSAN, South Korea -- Shot in Takua Pa, a town in South Thailand hit hardest by the 2004 tsunami, "Wonderful Town Wonderful Town " mourns a paradise lost with soulful music and brooding images, encapsulating both sadness and longing in a fleeting interlude of love.

This, the sophomore feature by Aditya Assarat ("Three Friends," "Waiting") is easily his best work to date and should not be overlooked by festivals with an interest in Asian art films.

The director makes no concession to a commercial audience, letting the film unfold at a dreamlike, languorous pace.

A narrative-centered synopsis cannot do justice to describe the fragile beauty of this tone poem. The setting is authentic, but it is also a psychological state, that casts a sleepy spell on the audience, making them tune into the dazed existence of the inhabitants. Assarat evokes the eeriness of a ghost town where about 8,000 had people died with wide shots of empty beaches, sea with no horizon and coolly detached shots of townspeople doing nothing much. He also captures the distinctive culture of its large Chinese community, whose customs and superstitions add to the pervading mood of spookiness. Shot on HD and transferred to film, the image quality is awash with a desaturated blue-gray color that accentuates the location's lifelessness.

Ton, an architect, arrives from Bangkok to supervise a resort construction project. He boards at a modest inn run by a Thai-Chinese woman, Na. Ton makes furtive advances at Na. For a time, she neither refuses nor returns his affections, but slowly, she allows herself to experience love. Gossip spreads around the town, and Na's brother Wit, an idler and local thug, loses his senses to jealousy and rage.

Though Na cannot understand why a city boy like Ton can feel at home in the sticks, he is a man who's been around and still carries emotional baggage from those experiences. In a way, the film ends twice. The first ending is a personal one, with Ton making a significant decision regarding his past and present. The second one is a cruel decision by the locals that stems from their inability to tolerate other people's happiness.

Assarat does not spell out what the characters think in words. Instead, he expresses a powerful undercurrent of emotions in elliptical images. Much of the film's lyricism owes itself to the spare but enrapturing guitar score by Zai Kuning and Koichi Shimizu.

Pop Pictures Co. Ltd
Director-screenwriter: Aditya Assarat
Producers: Soros Sukhum, Jetnipith Teerakulchanyut
Director of photography: Umpornpol Yugala
Production designer: Karanyapas Khamsin
Music: Zai Kuning, Koichic Shimizu
Costume designer: Thanon Songsil
Editor: Lee Chatametikool
Na: Anchalee Saisoontorn
Ton: Supphasit Kansen

Running time -- 92 minutes
No MPAA rating