Monday, February 28, 2011

สอง - Hello Stranger

Went on an impromptu trip to Bangkok a month ago and while I didn't really have much money on me, I was determined to take home a Thai movie DVD to add to my collection. Others might have thought about bringing home Thai silk, fisherman trousers, miniature Buddhas and other knickknacks, but I had my eye out for an official dvd release with English subtitles of something light like Seasons Change or Fan Chan, maybe even a film festival entry I missed like Love of Siam. It seemed like a sound idea at the time, unfortunately for me, our travel itinerary didn't give me much time to poke around---the Big C which was beside our hotel was closed for renovations and the video stores I happened to walk into at Central World predominantly had Hollywood movies on their shelves. There was a limited number of Thai movies to choose from and most, if not all of them, didn't carry English subs.

I had no choice but to declare my movie excursion a bust. So with only a bag of tamarind and a pair of trousers to show for my trip, I went home to Manila without the elusive DVD. Later, I found out that Thai movies were usually released without subtitles as part of the industry's policy to combat piracy and that I had a better shot at buying the above mentioned flicks as distributed in Hong Kong and Taiwan than hunting them down in their country of origin.

It was a wild goose chase from the start.

To cheer me up, my sisters agreed to do a Thai-movie marathon with me and since they were not in the mood to see another horror flick, and were too queasy to see Meat Grinder despite my prodding, we ended up doing a romantic comedy line-up, which explains this series of posts on Thai movies. 

There were quite a number of films to choose from but we ended up picking Hello Stranger for the following reasons: first, it was Thailand's top grossing film for 2010, so despite having reservations about it being another GTH romcom project, we thought it was worth taking a look at because (from what I heard) it was well received in countries like Singapore and Indonesia. Second, saw the trailer and recognized the actor who played the spooked film projectionist in Coming Soon and the boyfriend fighting off temptation in Hormones, so being somewhat familiar with his looks (ahem! Christian Bautista 0_o) work made it a no-brainer. Third, and this is what really sealed the deal, the movie was co-written and directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun---the person behind the hilarious segments featured in the 4bia and Phobia 2 anthologies. He might have been more known for films like Shutter and Alone, but this writer-director also knew how to tickle his audience's funny bone. So all systems go!

*    *    *

Hello Stranger basically tells the story of two Thai tourists who meet each other while on holiday in South Korea. He's (Chantavit Dhanasevi) a sulky, brokenhearted tourist, who opts to go on a package tour over the Songkran Festival despite having been dumped by his travel-companion/girlfriend, while she's (Nuengtida Sopon) on a personal trip to enjoy the sights as a kdrama enthusiast en route to her friend's wedding. They're strangers in a foreign land but through the force of circumstances, they end up being travel buddies who agree not to tell each other their names so as not to complicate their newfound [yet temporary] friendship. 

If there weren't any tv series here, would there be any tourists?
The two of them spend their time in South Korea together, visiting tourist spots, partying like the natives and living up the kdrama dream. They tease and bicker, share their sorrows and get to know each other that by the end of the trip, they find something resembling love even though they're both afraid to admit it.

There really isn't much to say about the plot of the movie, (for like Bangkok Traffic Love Story,) Hello Stranger runs the course of a typical love story wherein two people meet, fall in love and hurdle whatever personal issues or conflicts that are thrown into the mix. However, what differentiates Hello Stranger from its contemporaries is its specific brand of comedy. It's something that's clearly designed to win over kdrama afficionados (who would automatically be in on the joke), without necessarily throwing off or intimidating random moviegoers.

It has a script that hits the right notes, referencing Korean pop culture with a combined sense of awe and curiosity whilst poking fun at hallyu tropes and icons that hold sway over the region. There's a considerable amount of lampooning  involved and believe me, it'll make you laugh out loud and even stomp your feet at the lengths they went through to achieve this.

Writers Banjong Pisanthanakun and Chantavit Dhanasevi have a knack for putting a spin on cliches, infusing the movie with the kind of humor that's easily cognizable by Southeast Asian viewers. They make use of everything from the language barrier to the local cuisine to create funny scenarios that would put a smile on  the face of not only die-hard kdrama fans but also any hard-nosed viewer.

Shot on location to feature not only scenic spots but usual hangouts to provide a comprehensive view of South Korea, the whole movie plays out like a mini-excursion to a land that people have come to know through various cultural/media exports.

Apart from its stunning production value, the movie can also boast of the undeniable onscreen chemistry of its leads who by default become the viewer's guide/representative in this foreign country. Chantavit Dhanasevi impresses as the snide outsider who brings some mischief and perspective in all the hoopla behind Korean  movies and series while newcomer Nuengtida Sopon exudes the irresistible charm and infectious excitement of a fangirl who's surfing the Korean wave. Their scenes together are both outrageous and surprisingly touching; their interaction with the locals, particularly the elderly, is pure gold and classic comedy.

Perhaps the only complaint that one may find about this movie is that it ran a bit long. Co-produced by a Korean company, it appears that it was somewhat necessary to jam in every tourist spot and scenic location in South Korea into the story---which explains the rather lax and sinuous road that  had the movie clock in at  a whopping 127 minutes. Now despite being an obvious vehicle to promote cross-cultural friendship and tourism, Hello Stranger is something that's easy to recommend to anyone looking for fun, easy viewing; some might bemoan how the movie's ending left viewers hanging but considering how the whole concept behind the project was to reflect how much Korean culture has invaded the consciousness of its viewing public, then the ending of the movie can be interpreted as something in keeping with South Korea's cinematic style and imagery.


Post a Comment