Sawasdee Bangkok -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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BUSAN, South Korea -- Siam's "City of Angels" ignites the imagination of four Thai directors in the hip and happening omnibus "Sawasdee Bangkok." Participants for such projects too often are recruited internationally, so their works stay on the level of cinematic tourism. Not so for Wisit Sasannatieng, Aditya Assarat, Kongdei Jaturanrasnee and Pen-ek Ratanaruang.

Probing the metropolis as through their own backyard with the love-hate feelings a bachelor has for his messy pad, they show ordinary people fretting, longing or bonding in places never found in guide books.

Originally a made-for-TV shorts project that showcases nine prominent Thai directors' vision of their capital, production quality is not compromised at all by the format. If anything, "Sawasdee" deserves to break out of the confines of the "Paris J'taime" crowd on the strength of its visual panache.

"Sightseeing"explores the relativity of vision while subverting "Wings of Desire" with socially-conscious black humor. A blind girl who squats under the bridge receives a guided tour of Bangkok by a self-proclaimed angel. Sasannatieng's signature magic-realism in trippy, jellybean colors is reserved for the final twist.

In "Bangkok Blues," two 'farang' (expatriates) try to communicate to Thai girls with wildly different consequences. It is about bridging two worlds, not with words but sounds of daily life. Assarat's dialogue, the lengthiest he's written, is articulate and sprinkled with comic inflections. But it's his compositional grasp of space that's most sublime, exemplified by the graceful ending crane shot which glides across the cityscape like a flamingo across water.

"Pi Makham" is an elegiac variation on Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise." A country lad and a prostitute take a stroll together until daybreak. Beginning promisingly with a sensual, mysterious air, Jaturanrasnee's habitual slide into cloying sentimentality makes this the least exciting entry.

Rounding it off is Ratanaruang's "Silence," which accompanies an arsenic-tongued party girl on a night of drunken revelry. When her car breaks down on the lonely highway, a wild-eyed homeless man teaches her the 'magic word.'

Sporting the jumpy rhythm of a horror-slasher but with Jarmusch's absurdist sense of karmic pathcrossing, it is a model of how a set-up as simple as a woman, a man, a car and a beaten up phone booth can pack a fistful of suspense, friction, and shattering self-realization.

Pusan International Film Festival -- A Window on Asian Cinema

Production: Local Color Films Co. Ltd
Cast: Bongkot Kongmalai, Ananda Everingham, Louis Scott, Namo Thongkamnerd, Kalorin Neemayothin, Noppachai Chainam, Ploy Horwant
Directors-screenwriters: Wisit Sasannatieng, Aditya Assarat, Kongdei Jaturanrasnee, Pen-ek Ratanaruang
Producers: Saksiri Chantarangsri, Wicha Khokarpun, Jetniptih Teerakulchanyut
Executive producer: Wicha Khokarpun
Director of photography: Chankit Chamnivikaipong, Naruepol Chokkanapitaks, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Ampornpol Yukol
Editors: Lee Chatametikool
No rating, 108 minutes