Thursday, February 03, 2011

I must confess that I have a rather ambivalent attitude when it comes to watching Thai films. It's not that I have a particular reason to love them or even have sufficient cause to hate them, it's just that Thai movies are pretty hard to come by in my part of the world and my choices are very much limited to whatever's available for international distribution. Interestingly enough, my foray into Thai cinema started with two Nonzee Nimibutr films---the classic ghost story Nang Nak and the erotic period piece Jan Dara---which made a huge splash in the international scene at the turn of the century. Most of the stuff I've seen after that were  commercial picks or mainstream productions, a few were good but most of them didn't leave much of an impression.

By force of habit, I watch at least two to three Thai films a year. And since the focus of Thai cinema appears to have shifted gears in terms of genres in the last two years, the last batch of movies that I had the  occasion to see turned out to be all romantic comedies. I didn't feel like doing a proper review since there's very little to deconstruct by way of style and substance but given that Bangkok Traffic Love Story, Hello Stranger and A Little Thing Called Love turned out to be three of our Southeast Asian neighbor's top grossers in recent memory, I figured it wouldn't hurt to share my thoughts; pick on parts of the aforementioned movies and be done with it.

Furthermore, given that it's also the month of hearts, this 1-2-3 Thai movie roundup that features an old maid, a jilted lover and an ugly duckling wouldn't seem like such an odd fit. So without further ado, I hereby present to you a capsule review of an urban love story; the first in this line-up being yet another ode to the modern, single woman living in the big city...


In Bangkok Traffic Love Story, thirty year-old Mei Ly (Sirin Horwang) is the last among her friends to remain unattached and unmarried. Devastated over being the only singleton in a bunch of happily married folk, she makes up her mind to address the situation and sets her eyes on a mild-mannered engineer named, Loong (Theeradej Wongpuapan), whom she believes to be the one that destiny has sent to her. But alas, true love doesn't come easy as the object of her affection follows a work schedule that requires him to stay up and work on the Skytrain System when the rest of the world is asleep.

With her work cut out for her, Mei tries to get Loong's attention---planning chance encounters in the train station, staking out that video rental store that he frequents to get porn, even going as far as asking neighborhood hottie, Plern (Ungsumalynn Sirapatsakmetha), for advice in ways to win over this elusive, one of a kind bachelor.

As chick flicks go, Bangkok Traffic Love Story provides a hilarious albeit exaggerated take on how women nowadays are expected to have it all, as Mei juggles the demands of her family and career alongside her quest to win over Loong. Fluffy and formulaic, this movie offers cheap laughs in depicting the plight of a female singleton by hurling Mei into extremely awkward and embarrassing situations, utilizing lowbrow humor to punctuate her helplessness and desperation. Much of what happens in it is typical of its genre---with Mei undergoing one setback after another, with little or no hope of success or indication that she would find the love she's chasing after. As a result, the movie inevitably stumbles and stutters as it shows Mei's path to romance to be more difficult and tiresome than her daily commute around the metro.

Bangkok Traffic Love Story follows a predictable course to a requisite happy ending, impeded by a distended script that fails to tie everything neatly together as evidenced by the rough transition between scenes. It could have greatly benefited from proper editing since the movie sometimes feels like a random compilation of comic sketches and running gags, none of which, unfortunately, made it easier to sit through all 129 minutes of the film.

Like most romantic comedies to come after Ally McBeal and Bridget Jones's Diary, the movie features a female lead that is a trifle quirky and sassy; someone accessible and by all respects a fool for love. The only hitch is that it's been done a hundred times before and worked to the bone that viewers are already way too familiar with the mechanics of the story to the extent of either becoming annoyed at or indifferent to the vagaries of singledom.

It's a sad fact but female characters in such films tend to fall under certain archetypes and when the story is about a single lady nearing the end of her so-called "shelf life", one can very much expect her to be either a lovable klutz who's trying to find her way in life or a fierce dragon lady who's knowledgeable in everything except the matters of the heart. At times you get a slight variation thereof but you can always expect them to eventually get drunk and/or commit a major blunder in the course of the movie, preferably with mascara running down her tear-stained cheeks.

Nevertheless, romantic comedies as a rule aren't entirely judged on the the basis of its story nor its witty script. A lot of it rides on its execution and the ability of its audience to relate to the main character or the situation that s/he is in, which surprisingly, is something that the creators of this movie got right in select scenes.

There's nothing really special or memorable about Mei as a character. She's flighty and unsure, doesn't have a plan in life and gets in a whole lot of trouble. By all respects, this movie could have easily gone down the path of Sophie's Revenge minus the glossy finish but while Bangkok Traffic Love Story may not win any points for originality, it certainly gets credit for showcasing the everyday challenges of a woman who's trying to find  emotional stability in this day and age. Writers Benjamaporn Srabua (Metrosexual), Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit and Adisorn Trisirikasem (Fan chan) might have missed the mark on the comedy but they  were certainly able to create something that genuinely captures the loneliness that a thirty-year old singleton feels. From the diminishing number of friends who can keep you company, to the depressing reality that when your phone rings it's either your boss or your mother calling, to reluctantly competing with young vixens more adept in "the game", to surprise dinners designed to set you up with the son of a family friend---the saving grace of this movie is its ability to tap into the experience of every single woman who's going through life on her own.


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