< Welcome to Stylus Magazine | Login >
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Cast: Kanokporn Tongaram, Min Oo, Janjira Jansuda
ake no mistake: This is indeed a renaissance. Asian cinema has not been this consistently fruitful since the heyday of Ozu and Mizoguchi. Looking back at what I consider to be the finest film offerings of the past several years, it’s astounding how many of them come from Asian auteurs—and not just the current wave’s patron saints (namely, Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-wai and Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-hsien), but rather a wide range of filmmakers, many of whom share only a continent in common.
Some time back in this space, I expressed similar sentiments writing about Unknown Pleasures by China’s 34 year-old Jia Zhangke. Well, here’s another name to add to this ever-expanding list of tremendously promising young(ish) directors: Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Also just 34, Weeresethakul instantly marks his native Thailand as a new port of interest on the Asian art-movie map. He first caught Western notice with the quasi-documentary Mysterious Object at Noon, an entirely singular work that more than lives up to the purposeful ambiguity of its title.
"Oh, the umbrella's not for the rain. I plan on mixing the world's largest cocktail."
Blissfully Yours sparked a great deal of critical attention along the film festival circuit ever since its premiere at Cannes way back in 2002, but it didn’t play commercially in the United States until last year. (This injustice, mind you, pales considerably when one stops to acknowledge the fact that no Hou film had received as much as a single U.S. commercial screening until his 2001 Millennium Mambo played in New York on New Year’s Eve of 2003.) Film Comment’s Kent Jones described Weerasethakul’s films as “magical,” and, really, that’s as appropriate a description as any for Blissfully Yours. This doesn’t mean that Weerasethakul would necessarily be the best choice to helm an installment in the Harry Potter series; think more in terms of, say, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The film opens, quite abruptly, in the middle of a hospital check-up. A young man named Min (Min Oo) has developed some sort of skin rash, and needs a doctor to sign off on his work permit in order for him to find employment. Min, we shortly learn, is an illegal immigrant. His girlfriend, Roong (Kanokporn Tongaram), is paying an older woman named Orn (Jenjira Jansuda) to look after him while she’s busy working at a local factory (painting Disney figurines!). A half-hour-plus later, the opening credits finally roll, accompanied by a Latin pop song (a nice touch that momentarily calls Wong to mind), while Min and Roong leave the city to spend the afternoon together picnicking in the forest.
"Dude, don't bogart."
Once out in the wilds, the film takes on another character entirely. Away from the stress and tedium of quotidian life, Weerasethakul follows his young lovers’ lead, relaxing his pacing and framing as Min and Roong strip off layers clothing under the heat of the midday sun. They drink Pepsi like its champagne, snack on various dishes of food (until the flies have their way with them), and spoon a bit. Later, Orn, after having had something of an interesting day herself, shows up, surprising the couple. Roong convinces the reluctant older woman to take a dip with her in the river. Soon after, they get Min to join them as the two females together hold the male afloat in the soothing water. As inadvertently erotic as this all appears, it also feels religious—a baptism of sorts, cleansing Min of his skin condition.
Though Weerasethakul is unmistakably a fresh, largely original talent in world cinema, that doesn’t mean that his influences can’t be discerned, nor that one can’t draw some parallels with the work of his some of his contemporaries. For one, he has possibly the keenest eye this side of Terrence Malick when it comes to capturing nature on film (in a decidedly non-public television sort of way). Weerasethakul’s direction of non-actors seems indebted to Iran’s flourishing, Kiarostami-led variation on neo-realism. His long-take approach certainly owes something to Hou, and he shares with Tsai Ming-liang an intrinsic fascination with water. The latter point goes not just for the scene discussed in the previous paragraph, but also for something as simple and ephemeral as the way two pairs of legs look dangling underwater.
Weerasethakul’s latest feature, Tropical Malady, premiered last year at Cannes. Here’s to hoping it will make its way here quicker than its predecessor did. Even if it does take another two years, though, I suspect that—like Blissfully Yours--it will prove well worth the wait.
By: Josh Timmermann
Log In to Post Comments
|all content copyright 2004 stylusmagazine.com|