Sunday, 17 June 2018

Sydney Film Festival (23) - Barrie Pattison reviews SAMUI SONG (Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Thailand)

Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
Visitor Pen-Ek Ratanaruang is one of the most established of Thailand’s film makers. He’s worked with Christopher Doyle and Takashi Miike and his Monrak Transistor and Invisible Waves have had some circulation abroad. That last film has several connections with his new Samui Song- including a Double Indemnity husband murder and a pregnancy sub-plot. Its bloody fish tank anticipates the gore stained pottery wheel in this film. That one wasn’t at all bad. 

Samui Song is the first fiction feature the director has come up with in six years, and he spent two of them editing it. American trained, he acknowledges his debt to Fellini, Bergman, Woody Allen, Jim Jarmusch & Hitchcock. There’s more of Dial M For Murder with the killing of spouse Stepane Sednaoui, than of Strangers on a Train which the writer-director nominates. 

Soap Opera star Laila Chermarn Boonyasak plays a soap opera star who gets fellow smoker (“a social stigma before lung cancer”) David Asavanond to off husband potter Sedanoui after the dastard turns her out for Vithaya Pansringarm the leader of his Bondayakava Buddhist sect.

We start off with a car crash seen from the eyes of a dog for no fathomable reason.  Asavanond, looking after his invalid mother in single element lens insets, has to flee, with her making her lightning recovery, after he downs a couple of gunmen sent in retaliation. Suddenly there’s a time shift and a Thai Whale NGO is boating out to the remote community of Koh Samui with a 35mm movie projector show, after which one of their team attempts to rape a local. Rescued, she gets into a vigorous kiss with our heroine now subject to plastic surgery and the girl wants to take showers naked with her. We are denied that, though we did get a protracted shot of Sedanoui masturbating.

Samui Song
Vengeful Asavanond shows up with the organs of his now deceased mother in a ziplock bag, wanting the star to eat them, only for him to get repeatedly stabbed with a broken bottle, and then mysteriously shot.  The cult leader re-appears for what seems to be a cynical conclusion pinpointing exploitation by the patriarchy.

This is all delivered at length in artificial, muted colour with the digital production values that we might associate with the day time soap drama it references. The mix of sensationalism and naiveté is not without some fascination. I wonder what its target audience made of it all. 

Pen-Ek Ratanaruang seems like a nice guy and he’s the visible tip of a lot of movie activity. I wish I liked Samui Song better.

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