Thursday, February 26, 2009
Wonderful Town (2008)
Written and directed by Aditya Assarat
Starring Supphasit Kansen, Anchalee Saisoontorn, Dul Yaambunying
The world was still heady with holiday hangovers when the news of a great disaster of mythological proportion filled our screens and stunned us immobile by its enveloping devastation.
"Wonderful Town" takes us back to the beaches of Phuket, Thailand where a tsunami claimed hundreds of thousands of lives four years ago. The rushing and crashing of waves fill the screen, a hypnotic lullaby that sings of loss, strangely graceful and sinister at the same time. We get flooded in by foreboding before we get a first glimpse of a town framed by ragged mountains with patches of jungle, idyllic and murmuring with impressionist pastoral warmth. Wonderful, from a distance.
And it is this calm glamour that Ton (Supphasit Kansen), an architect from Bangkok, falls under. He checks in an old hotel and later, while on a site visit to oversee the rebuilding of a hotel along the coast of Phuket, reveals to his foreman that he volunteered for this assignment, preferring the solitude and quiet over the busy city, preferring to stay in an almost empty hotel in a town muted by predictability.
At the hotel, Na (Anchalee Saisoontorn) peacefully goes about performing her chores, changing sheets, folding towels, carefully but vacantly. But when she enters Ton's room, for the first time we see a hint of a sparkle in her eyes, a little tension in the arches of her shoulders. Later that evening, after searingly casual introductions, Na presses her ear against Ton's door, listening to him sing under the shower. The darkness rolls away from the shore as the second half of the movie delicately follows the relaxed conversations and uninhibited sweetness of falling in love that is reminiscent of Il Gon-Song's 2004 movie, Git or Feathers in the Wind. Na spends her afternoons sleeping in Ton's unmade bed, carefully following the creases with her fingers. Ton steals glances and kisses as the wind stirs up a line of drying towels.
Aditya Assarat's eye allows us to soak in the details until every curve of a landscape, every thoughtful brushing of skin against shadow against skin, every hissing summer blade, becomes imprinted in memory and are dialogues in themselves. This hypnotic spell, this immersion of gestures, motives and scenery in a single breath is much like Apichatpong Weerasethakul's atmosphere of strange calm where the mundane is amplified by steady camera pans until it reaches delirious surrealism. But where most of Weerasethakul's movies take a detour to the fantastic, Assarat's abruptly changes in tone as we hear the sea once again while the lovers make love in the darkness, the thief that steals, the waves that are hungry.
Na's brother, Wit (Dul Yaambunying), disapproves of his sister's illicit affair, which has stirred the town to life with gossip, and decides, along with his gang of thugs, to do something about it.
The abandoned haunted house, the crazy local boy, and the gurgling sea---like a forgotten memory from the beginning of the film---rear their ugly prophecies and suddenly fall into place. In an ending that is evocative of Weerasethakul's "Blissfully Yours," drowned ghosts not different from a town left hollow by tragedy, remain ghosts that pull others down to its murky, secretive depths.
"Wonderful Town" is adjective and irony, a heavy current with invisible waves. Assarat's first full-length feature is deceptively haunting, but its message does not lie in an aimlessly drifting bottle in the ocean. It's the in-between, the love (even) among the ruined, that can sweep us away like nothing else can.
Wonderful Town Wins 5 Subanahongsa Awards (Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal)
Aditya Assarat's Wikipedia Page