Hello Stranger: Film Review

Bubbly romantic comedy about compatriots bonding in a foreign land.

Thai director-writer Banjong Pisanthanakun keeps the tone chilled out and fizzy like a Spritzer in this adorable rom-com set in Korea.

SHANGHAI – Two Thai tourists meet cute in Korea in Hello Stranger, an adorable rom-com that salutes, pokes fun at and deftly tinkers with the conventions of its own genre. Switching gears with apparent ease from heavy-duty horrors Shutter and Alone (both co-helmed with Parkpoom Wongpoom), director-writer Banjong Pisanthanakun keeps the tone chilled out and fizzy like a Spritzer. The two breezy leads convey the headiness of letting one’s hair down in an unknown land.

The film became one of Thai box office’s annual top earners. Addiction to Korean TV drama is not necessary for getting the ubiquitous references to the subject, but it helps.

During Thailand’s Songkran Festival, a man (Chantavit Dhanasevi, who co-wrote the screenplay) joins a package tour to Korea but is stranded in Seoul when he is accidentally misses out on a mountain trip. Abroad for the first time and speaking little English, he latches on to a Thai girl (Nuengthida Sophon) he meets by chance to explore the city together. When she breaks up with her control freak boyfriend over the phone, they head to the countryside to attend her friend Min Ah’s wedding. They decide not to exchange names, and call each other Darng (“puppy” in Thai) and May.

The film gets its spontaneous, happy-go-lucky vibe from emphasizing how the protagonists reveal more of themselves to strangers as one tends to lose one’s inhibitions abroad. The screenplay deftly light-foots around scenarios that would have turned schmaltzy, the best example being a candle-lit dinner that becomes a gag that turns on May’s idolizing of Korean heartthrob Bae Yong-jun.

Nevertheless, the film also shies away from igniting any sexual frisson, despite several occasions where they end up in the same bed (with complimentary handcuffs, no less). Instead, it plays safe by ending on a mellow note of wistfulness after a formulaic complication in the shape of Darng’s ex-girlfriend Goi (Varathaya Nilkooha).

The leads are refreshingly down-to-earth. The dorky, wisecracking Dhanasevi bounces off Sophon’s ditzy, chatterbox personality to charming effect. They develop the comfortable rapport that bickering buddies rather than typical screen lovers enjoy. 

The production is well-appointed on technical and aesthetic levels. Special attention is paid to design a trendy and versatile wardrobe that reflects the protagonists’ diverse activities and moods.

Hello Stranger makes wry observations on the Thais’ infatuation with Korean TV drama (“If there’s no cheesy drama, will there still be tourists in this country?” asks Darng), all the while giving them what they want by shooting in all the touristy locations with K-drama references – even Min Ah’s house looks like the set of a Joseon Dynasty costume epic.

Venue: Shanghai International Film Festival
Production company: Jor Kwang Films, Korea Thailand Communication Center
Cast: Ter Chantavit Dhanasevi, Nuengthida Sophon,Varathaya Nilkooha
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Screenwriters: Banjong Pisanthanakun,Ter Chantavit Dhanasevi, Nontra Koomwong
Producers: Jira Maligool, Chenchonee Soonthomsaratul, Suvimon Techasupinan, Pran Tadaveerawat, Vanridee Pongsittisak
Executive producers: Paiboon Domrongchaittam, Boosaba Daoruang, Visute Poolvoralaks, Jina Osothslip
Director of photography: Niraman Ross
Production designers: Anan Nuchawong, Phairot Siriwath
Costume designer: Suthee Muarnwacha
Music: Chartchai Pongprapaphon
Editor: Thamarat Sumetsupachak
Sales: GTH Tai Hub Company Ltd.
No rating, 130 minutes

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