Sunday, 17 January 2010

Greed Is Our Downfall.

I must say I found myself a little confused by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's (say what?) 2004 Cannes Jury Prize winning film Tropical Malady. Which isn't to say that I didn't like it. Actually, maybe confused is the wrong word. (And maybe I should actually go back and edit my post, rather than rambling on in stream of consciousness fashion. You know what? No.) Intrigued would be a good word. There are other good words, but moving right along.

What I got from the film is that is is essentially two stories, a real story at the beginning and a myth at the end, featuring the same actors, the myth acting allegorically for the story at the beginning. I must say that the blurb on the DVD is terrible in terms of trying to ascertain what the film is about - it made the narrative structure sound more Mulholland Drive than anything else, so I kept waiting for various random and confusing, fantastical threads to start coming through, which obviously didn't happen. That's not a bad thing, just a note to whoever is writing copy on DVDs that if you start dicking around with the reality of what the film is, you're just going to piss people off.

So, the real story is about two guys in love (one, two, three: awww), one in the army, one not. Their story moves quite slowly, without much real drama, but it's really sweet nonetheless. Things like going to the movies, sitting in the jungle, talking and just generally enjoying what does look like the early flushes of romance and a relationship. Weerasethakul really works to make sure you're as enamoured with the couple and what they have going on as the couple is themselves.

The second part of the film comes in, however, and ditches these two lovers as they were, turning them into a soldier (again), sent to a village and subsequently hunting down a shapeshifting shaman who is able to turn himself into a tiger. Here, there is a love affair of sorts going on, and the allegorical use could seem to speak to the truth of the relationship preceding - is it more of a fascination that a love affair? Are they each merely serving as an entertainment, an aside, a challenge? After all, Tong, the non-soldier in the initial story, never seems to return the proclamations of Keng. While he does seem to be enjoying their friendship, Keng is the one turning it from friendship into something more, maybe somewhat against Tong's wishes.

It's an interesting film. It looks and feels beautiful, all those jungles. And tonally it's very good - the rhythm flows naturally and lulls you into this world where nothing seems to matter. This is then picked up at the end for the tenser scenes between the soldier and the tiger/shaman. A valiant effort, I can't help but feel that it is a little disjointed, that the latter story could have been incorporated or felt more relevant if the technique of simply slashing down the middle hadn't been employed. There were times as well when the love story seemed to drag, clawing for material to sustain it to pad the film into something feature length.

I don't want this to come off as a negative write-up, because I did quite like the film, I'm going to give it 3.5 stars. But you need to be prepared going in.

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