I caught the complete nine-part anthology that made up the Thai omnibus film, Sawasdee Bangkok at the Southeast Asian Film Festival (Singapore Art Museum) last year. Of the nine short films, four were selected to participate in the Toronto Film Festival (Sightseeing, Bangkok Blues, Pi Makham, and Silence) in 2009. Here is a short summary of the nine short films:

Sightseeing, directed by Wisit Sasanatieng, 26 mins

To console a blind woman, a man describes Bangkok to her in this magic-realist tale.

Bangkok Blues, directed by Aditya Assarat, 21 mins

This amusing and wistful account follows the adventures of two buddies – both of mixed nationality – and their awkward relationships with Thai women.

Pi Makham, directed by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, 25 mins

The title of this melancholic film refers both to a ghost and to the prostitutes who roam an area called Sanam Luang Park each night.

Silence, directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, 21 mins

This funny and poignant story portrays a young woman’s drunken escapades and ensuing bizarre encounters one night as she drives home from a nightclub.

Lost But Not Forgotten, directed by Rutaiwan Wongsirasawad, 20 mins

In this light tale an old snack-seller sees a young guitarist and remembers his youth as a rock singer.

Maha Nakorn, directed by Bhandit Rittakol, 32 mins

A couple from a rural part of Thailand visit Bangkok to photograph the sights of the city, and get caught up in a small adventure.

Bangkok Stories, directed by Prachya Pinkaew, 27 mins

A funny and ironic guide to the trivialities and daily rituals of life in the city of Bangkok.

Sisters, directed by Chookiat Sakveerakul, 38 mins

This colourful romantic drama set in a high school follows the romantic endeavours of the school’s top student, gymnast Ann, and star swimmer, Vee.

I Love Bangkok, directed by Santi Taepanich, 32 mins

This powerful closing short features interviews with diverse marginal characters in the strange and wonderful city of Bangkok.

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An emerging theme in these films is an overwhelming sense of loss, both as an individual and as a society. On a societal level, Bangkok seems to have lost the beauty which gave the city its name “City of Angels.” In Sightseeing, the blind woman still holds on to this idealistic view of Bangkok but is unable to see the city, not only because of her physical blindness, but also because it has been lost. Ultimately, it is only the outsider who still believes in the existence of a magical Bangkok sung about in old folksongs.

The couple in Maha Nakorn also hold an idealistic view of Bangkok. They travel from their rural home to the city, hoping to capture the essence of the beautiful city in pictures. However, they are thwarted repeatedly when they are told that some other attraction represents Bangkok more. In a twist of fate, they lose their camera with everything they thought represented Bangkok and end up only with a polaroid. Just like the polaroid, any view of the ceaselessly changing city, however beautiful, is bound to fade away someday.

On an individual level, there is a loss of dreams, innocence, and even of what makes us human. In Pi Makham, a young man looking for his father in Bangkok meets a prostitute who had lost her innocence in the city. Connected by the same loneliness, they walk the city together at night, forming a fleeting relationship that disappears when morning comes. The young woman in Silence hurls abuses at a homeless deaf man when he comes fiddling with her car that had broken down on the road. When it becomes clear that the man was fixing her car, she remains suspicious and believes he wants something out of her. She throws cash at him but the man returns the notes, writing on it that he only wanted to hear her say “thank you.”

Not all the films are suspicious of the change that has taken over Bangkok. Diversity is celebrated in I Love Bangkok, where characters from all walks of life tell us that Bangkok is whatever you want it to be. Change is portrayed in Lost But Not Forgotten as inevitable, possibly sad, but to be embraced because it brings renewal. The old snack-seller in this film meets a young guitarist on a rundown bus that breaks down before reaching its destination and is reminded of his younger days as a musician. The handing-over of his snacks to the young man at the end of the film seem to suggest that despite renewal, certain things would be passed from generation to generation unchanged. When travelling home, the snack-seller rides on a new air-conditioned bus comfortably as he thinks back on the day’s event. Even though it is a different bus, the journey is the same. Similarly, even though Bangkok is not the same city, it has not lost everything that made it magical.

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Film summaries taken from Singapore Art Museum brochure.
Picture taken from Wise Kwai’s Thai Film Journal .

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The Southeast Asian Film Festival is back at Singapore Art Museum from 2 to 31 March 2012.

Posted by:L

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