Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

If you ever need a change from the humdrum assembly line of Hollywood movies, it is always worth checking out the Academy Award Foreign Language film winners, nominees and submissions. Nearly every year there’s a gem or two to be found in the selection; in this case it’s the Australian submission (sadly not entered for competition), The Rocket. The feature debut from Kim Mordaunt is a sweet, uplifting and often shocking account of a family in Laos. Mordaunt brings his knowledge of the land (after directing documentary Bomb Harvest that looked at the remaining bombs from the US attack on Laos) along with a magic-realism tone and Spielbergian child character to create a truly enchanting film.

With a land destitute, lacking a particular age, Laos has a fascinating beauty. Due to its scarred land, it is also a place of solemnity. These are the two key aspects of Mordaunt’s film – a joyous depiction of splendour combined with heartbreak and toil. It begins with the birth of Ahlo and his still-born twin brother; the former being tagged “little balls” comically before the latter’s bereaved entrance. This juxtaposition continues throughout, making The Rocket an honest and therefore affecting film.

In a nutshell Ahlo’s twin genetics marks him as a figure of bad luck. In his young life he experiences this continually, yet he always strives to overcome it. When his family are moved out of their homes due to planned construction, the trek to a new life leads them to an unfit area of living. Ahlo then hears about a rocket-building competition that offers money to the winner. With his intellect and spirit he plans to win it, keeping his family safe and able to move them to a better property.

The simple storyline expands beyond its perimeters to explore notions of innocence, discrimination and the bonds we find in life. As a family film (with a 12A certificate), The Rocket is affirming and intelligent, worthy of comparison with some of the Capra and Disney greats. Not only does it keep your attention fixated on the determination of one boy, it reminds you of the scarcity in some people’s lives that can be overruled on the strengths of family and virtuousness.

Messages and morals aplenty, The Rocket is never preachy. It has a very clear set of values and an unquestionable elegance. The first 30 minutes are laced with stunning cinematography and a finely tuned score. As the film becomes more of a character study the visuals become less styled, thankfully reintroduced in the finale. It is a work of class, with Mordaunt making a terrific name for himself. He has the wit, humanity and wisdom to make the right sort of film, and The Rocket is already an excellent example of that.

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Cannes was not kind to Only God Forgives. Yet, Nicolas Winding Refn is not a director who requests niceties. He has facetiously called himself a pornographer, which is not literally true; however in Only God Forgives he allows his camera to linger on dialogue empty scenes so long, that it might seem invasive and gratuitous. While this film might provoke some viewers to recoil, it is a bold, stylish and strangely meditative thriller, which speaks with figurative brilliance about the loss of sexual innocence and the violence of the adult world.

Literally speaking though, Only God Forgives takes place in Bangkok, Thailand. A stoic Ryan Gosling plays Julian, an US expat, boxing club owner and drug smuggler. Julian’s brother Billy (Tom Burke) is murdered by gangsters, after he murdered a sixteen-year-old prostitute. The gangsters are advised by the devilishly God-like swordsman Lt. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm.) Billy’s death ushers in the arrival of their mother Crystal (played brilliantly by a nauseating Kristin Scott Thomas), who arrives from the US to see Billy’s body. Crystal and Chang initiate a whirlwind of violence, stemming from her monstrous, sexualised angst and his brutal discipline.

At its heart Only God Forgives is a deeply Oedipal film about two men dealing with their mother’s sexual depravity; a depravity that may stem from the violent death of her husband. Crystal claims to have had a particularly “special” relationship with deceased son Billy (in one memorable scene she describes his penis as “enormous”) and yet Julian seems sidelined, impotent, and childlike (hence Gosling’s ruthlessly low-key performance.) Like his mother, Billy was also sexually deviant; his ultimate fantasy involved abusing minors. Julian seems traumatised by his own family, as well as his failings to impress and satisfy his mother (and the prostitute he pays to see regularly,) so he trades his sexuality for his fists.

Visually Refn has created a unique orientalism, with which to locate the story. Shooting on the streets of Bangkok, as well in sets dressed to look like ornate brothels and grandiose boxing rings, Refn depicts a hellish, womb-like dreamscape. Shifts from location to location are not handled with clarity, but rather the viewer floats through the film (with the help of Cliff Martinez’s absorbing score) gradually being drawn in, or maybe repelled. Refn’s nightmarish visuals have frequently been compared to Gaspar Noé and David Lynch, but in terms of shooting style there is more in common with Takeshi Kitano’s violent minimalism. Side-on tracking shots recall ones from Refn’s own Bronson, but may actually be inspired by Alejandro Jodorowsky’s transgressive masterpiece The Holy Mountain.

Refn dedicates this film to Alejandro Jodorowsky and has described Only God Forgives as his “Jodorowsky film.” As with Jodorowsky’s films, Only God Forgives sets itself up as a challenge. It is a film that asks the viewer to dissolve completely into the subtext, rather than take each scene literally. Refn assembles scenes that comment on his Oedipal themes, rather than compel the narrative with plot. Ultimately the film discourages rational thought, asking for the viewer to metaphorically connect its ideas (male genitals are equated with fists, weapons serve to bring impotence & innocence, wounds are orifices for penetration, adults destroy innocence); this occurs in a manner like Jodorowsky’s rejection of logic, inspired by Buddhist koans.

By coupling its psychosexual themes and meditative style (and some rousing karaoke numbers from Chang), Only God Forgives finally betrays a tragic hilarity. As Julian propositions Chang with the words “wanna fight?” Chang looks judgingly at his crotch. This moment is protracted as if to summarise the film’s ideas about sex and violence and yet it also revels in the absurdity of Refn’s filmmaking. Only God Forgives may appear a challenging ninety minutes, but it is a bold stab at a different kind of storytelling, not without moments of Refn’s roughish showmanship.

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