A gay love story.
I wish I could summarise this review in the 4 words above so that I can go on and review more worthy films, but I can’t. Conversely, it’s only prudent to issue this cautionary statement – don’t be deceived by the title. The Bangkok Love Story isn’t just a love story between 2 gay men.
It’s also a terrifying mongrel of a film that attempts to discuss, among other things, AIDS, family and spousal abuse, rape, extramarital affairs, prostitution, stepfathers, poverty and the underworld, with the use of numerous clichés, a ridiculous script and laughable melodrama.
Bangkok Love Story is about how Maek, an assassin who only kills bad people, was paid to kill Ith, a handsome and wealthy man. Unlike his usual street killings, Maek was instructed to capture Ith, and bring him to his bosses. Upon discovering that the latter is wanted for exposing the truth on a criminal issue, Maek protects Ith and takes a bullet in his arm while they make their getaway. As the story goes, we learn that Maek kills to support his HIV-positive mother and brother, who contracted the disease from Maek’s stepfather when he raped both Maek’s mother and brother.
Meanwhile, after Ith dug the bullet out from Maek’s arm and started spending time with him, both of them fall in love. It resulted in a typical sex scene under the rain (as clichéd and melodramatic as it goes), which was, by the way, less than artfully edited out, with the background music interrupted midway. After that, Maek denies his feelings vehemently and, for the rest of the film, they play an angst-filled game of hide and seek, with mounting background pressure from the film’s subplots of Maek’s bosses wanting to kill both of them and the looming threat of HIV in Maek’s mother and brother’s lives.
By weighing itself down to discuss a myriad of issues, the film has only time and energy left for miserable plot and character developments. Even the crux of the film – the relationship between Maek and Ith was not given enough attention and space to develop. There are simply not enough scenes and minutes in the film that focused on their relationship. Instead, they lose themselves to the deluge of other complications in their lives.
It didn’t help that there was no chemistry between the actors. They spent their time pining, whining, and crying for each other, but they show very little affection for each other when they finally get together, be it verbal or body language. Their on-screen kisses, as brave as they were from straight actors, seemed abrupt and artificial, and they ring as hollow as Ith’s frequent declarations of love.
Ironically, it was the story and character of Mork, Maek’s brother, which developed the most, overpowering the lives of the 2 protagonists. The film tells a poignant tale of a loner who gets beaten up every time he goes out to buy food for his bedridden mother, because of his HIV status. Silenced by the discrimination he faces, Mork expresses his anger by putting fighting fishes together and watching them fight. His life allows people to glimpse into the lives of the HIV-positive people living in Thailand, and the discrimination they face from society.
Desperate and helpless, Mork decides to resort to prostitution. However, despite its great potential, this film didn’t fully develop this aspect of Mork’s life, probably because this film isn’t about HIV. In the end, unable to take the incomprehensible fear he faces every day, Mork kills himself.
To make matters worse, the Bangkok Love Story is as cliché as its tagline: “Sometimes life takes us to unexpected places. They broke all the rules to be together”. In an official press release, Poj Arnon, director and scriptwriter, said that he wants to show that the love in a gay relationship is no different from a heterosexual one. It appears that his way of conveying that message is through a whole medley of fairytale clichés, from the way the 2 men fall in love, to the ring Ith offered Maek, to the script that goes along the mushy lines of “I will love you forever!”
The error of such clichés is compounded by melodrama of ludicrous proportions, which turned sad scenes into comical acts, and fundamental plot flaws. The spasmodic and incoherent flow in the plot is especially evident in the ending, where the irregular and inconsistent pace misled the audience into believing that the film is ending, at several points of time
However, one must acknowledge the impressive cinematography in Bangkok Love Story. Oversaturated colours, fast-forwarded motion and intentional jerky editing competently describe the emotions of the protagonists without words. Clever techniques, such as the use of extreme angles, accentuate hostility, discrimination and loneliness.
As much as its cinematography might interest those studying film, such brilliance can’t save a film that’s adamant in destroying itself with clichés, a weak plot, inferior character development, and absurd melodrama.
Mork said in the film, “I like to see them (the fighting fishes) fighting. The strongest one is the winner, the weakest one is the loser”. This line is highly appropriate for a film that has obviously tried to ride on the success of the gay love in Brokeback Mountain , but has failed pathetically.
UrbanWire gives Bangkok Love Story 1 out of 5 stars
Opens: Mar 6
Movie Rating: R21
Running Time: 150 mins
Cast: Suchao Pongwilai, Chutcha Rujinanon, Wiradit Srimalai
Director: Poj Arnon
Image courtesy of http://www.bangkoklovestorymovie.com/