‘Heart Attack’ (‘Freelance’): Shanghai Review

Heart Attack Still 2 - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Shanghai International Film Festival

Heart Attack Still 2 - Publicity - H 2016

An inventive if over-long spoof of the over-work ethic feels cool and accessible.

A sleep-deprived, workaholic graphics designer falls for his dermatologist between deadlines in an award-winning Thai comedy.

Workaholics around the world will recognize themselves in the witty black comedy Heart Attack (a.k.a. Freelance), which came home the big winner at Thailand’s 2016 National Film Awards. Almost but not quite a rom com with a bit of body horror thrown in, the story follows a nerdy-cool 30-year-old freelance graphics designer who can’t say no to a job, until his body starts breaking down due to sleep deprivation. He changes his unhealthy life-style and his wildly off-kilter value system when he starts visiting a committed dermatologist.

Director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, a long-time denizen of the experimental indie category with films like 36 (36 fixed camera shots) and his teenage tweet-inspired Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy, moves into the more accessible mainstream with this amusingly told tale targeted at young professionals. It has already made its mark at festivals and, with some serious trimming, could find takers outside its home turf.

The film connects to audiences through its intimate portrait of Yoon, played by a notably physical Sunny Suwanmethanon on the borderline between serious and comic. The country's top graphics designer in a highly competitive, very small industry, he is given assignment after assignment from companies that need their ad campaigns retouched and models’ imperfections air-brushed away. He literally spends day and night in front of his computer, removing pimples and resizing breasts, always on breathless deadlines. It’s not about the money – he doesn’t even have time to deposit his paychecks. When time is really tight he doesn’t even leave his room for a food run, but gets take-out from his young but tough-as-nails producer Je (Violette Wautier) when she stops by to pick up his files. Apart from the night shift guy Kai at Seven-11, where he procures his diet of shrimp dumplings, Je is the only human contact he has time for. In a telling scene, he goes to the funeral of his best friend’s father in a Buddhist temple and asks to recharge his laptop next to the coffin. (He also asks the head monk for wifi access.)

It’s a cold, cruel, competitive world out there, as Yoon well knows, and he can’t afford to turn down an assignment for fear a rival will step in the gap. But when he pushes himself to finish a job by not sleeping for five straight days, living on a potent brew of Red Bull mixed with coffee, the first angry red spots appear on the back of his neck and slowly spread to the rest of his body.

Forced to visit a public out-patient facility, he is embarrassed to discover Dr. Imm (Davika Hoorne) is an attractive young medical student and needs to examine his penis. They only meet for a few minutes each month, but it's enough to motivate him to follow doctor’s orders: no seafood, daily exercise and bedtime by 9 p.m. But the sleeping pills she prescribes make his productivity take a dive, as evident in a hilarious deadline sequence.

Though expectations are for romance to bloom, Thamrongrattanarit’s screenplay has more original things to do, and the final resolution is in keeping with the overall cool tone.

Apart from the highly expressive Suwanmethanon in the main role, the cast plays completely deadpan. This allows Hoorne to hide Imm’s true feelings (is she attracted to Yoon or not?) behind an impersonal professional mask, and leads to a surprise twist in Wautier’s character Je. All three actors have won national acting awards.

Hualampong Riddim’s mocking score (including the tuba) is creatively used in fits and starts. The only real fly in the ointment is the excessive running time. Even if the film stays inventive for much of its two-hour-plus running time, tighter editing would spare a lot of irritating repetition.

Production company: GTH, Jorkwang Films Co.

Cast:  Sunny Suwanmethanon, Davika Hoorne, Violette Wautier, Torpong Chantabubpha

Director, screenwriter: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

Producers:Jira Maligool, Wanruedee Pongsittisak, Chenchonnanee Soonthonsaratul, Suwimol Techasupinan, Weerachal Yaikwawong

Director of photography: Niramon Ross

Production designer: Phairot Siriwath

Costume designer: Watsana Benchachat

Editor: Chonlasit Upanigkit

Music: Hualampong Riddim

World sales: GDH 559 Company

132 minutes

Venue: Shanghai Film Festival (Thai Film Week)