Sunday, January 11, 2009
Last Life in the Universe (2003) became an instant favorite of mine when I first saw it about five years ago and it made Pen-Ek Ratanaruang the director I most looked forward to seeing new films from and he didn't disappoint with his next film, Invisible Waves (2006). Just like Last Life Invisible Waves was a collaboration between Pen-Ek, cinematographer Christopher Doyle and writer Prabda Yoon with a score by Hualampong Riddim and it maintained the dreamlike atmosphere of Last Life while being a completely different story. Two stories set in a universe in which Ploy (2007) also fits in.
Ploy takes place in a hotel in Thailand, Wit and Dang is a married couple who just returned from America to attend a relative's funeral and in the hotel bar young girl Ploy is waiting for her mother to arrive from Stockholm. Feeling restless Wit goes down to the bar to buy cigarettes and Ploy asks him for a light. They talk for a while and Wit finds out that Ploy's mother won't arrive for another few hours so he invites her to his room to rest there, something Dang isn't very happy about. When Ploy is taking a shower Dang urges Wit to kick her out but he won't and feelings of jealousy start to come over Dang. As a contrast to Wit and Dang's tired, passionless marriage, the bartender and a maid, presumably in the beginning of their relationship, are roleplaying and having sex in another room in the hotel.
It's not clear what is actually real and what's just dreams in the film, is Wit's ex really at the door and did Wit really leave the hotel together with Ploy or is it just Dang's jealousy that is taking shape in her dreams? Is Dang really abducted when she accepts an invitation to come to a stranger's apartment?
Ratanaruang manages to re-create the mood of Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves, mostly thanks to Riddim's score and that the look of the film is reminiscent to the previous two, especially the corridors of the hotel reminds me of the corridors of the cruise ship that Tadanobu Asano's character Kyoji Hamamura boards in Invisible Waves. The problem with Ploy is that it feels like it wants to say something but it doesn't really come up with anything. We do get closer to the characters than in Last Life and Invisible Waves but they don't really add anything. Sure, marriage gets old, you don't have sex as much after a while as you did in the beginning and sometimes the perceived lack of love makes you do the wrong thing or make the wrong decicions. But without knowing the characters' bagage, it's hard to make out if there is anything for them to worry about or if they are just crazy but maybe that's the point.
I had a really hard time with Ratanaruang's pre-Last Life films, all of them bored me to death and some reviewers are saying that Ploy is in a way a step back to the roots for Pen-Ek at the same time as it's a step forward, a natural evolvement in his filmmaking. I agree because Ploy also almost bored me to death and that Pen-Ek is taking a step back by copying the feel (which saves the film somewhat) of his previous two films but without someone else writing a script for him he just seems unable to come up with an interesting story or characters.
Posted by Executive Koala at 2:28 PM