Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Invisible Waves (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, 2006)

Tadanobu Asano in Ratanaruang's Invisible Waves (2006).

Invisible Waves, Pen-Ek Ratanaruangs follow up to 2003's Last Life in the Universe once again teams him up with actor Tadanobu Asano, cinematographer Christopher Doyle, scriptwriter Prabda Yoon and composer Hualampong Riddim and this time the result is a moody, atmospheric noir-like thriller. The following text contains spoilers.

Asano plays Kyoji Hamamura, a chef at a Hong Kong restaurant who is having an affair with his boss' wife. After a while we learn that he's also been hired by his boss to kill the wife and then leave Hong Kong to start a new life in Phuket. Everything is arranged by Kyoji's boss so that he can easily sneak out of the city on a cruise ship headed for Phuket but when he starts his journey Kyoji is having trouble coping with his conscience. It doesn't get any better when he also finds out that his cabin is more of a closet with a bathroom and seems to be located next to engine room, or when he's harassed by a strange man claiming to be an old friend of his from school. The only thing making the trip somewhat enjoyable is Noi, a young lady travelling to Phuket with her baby. She and Kyoji spend some time talking and dancing before they part at their destination. From here on Kyoji's troubles only get worse.

After being attacked and robbed in his hotel room, Kyoji's boss arranges for him to meet another man at a bar to pick up some more money, but that is when Kyoji starts to suspect that maybe it was his boss who had him attacked.

The story, just like in Last Life in the Universe, isn't always completely logical and often somewhat dream like. If it wasn't for this dream like atmosphere things like that Kyoji's boss could easily have had him killed instead of going through all the trouble of sending him on a cruise and have him attacked, might have been a bigger disturbance. The main reason though why the story still works so well is that the focus is completely on Kyoji's inner battle with himself over what he has done. It would be easy to say that he's on a quest for redemption, that the pains he endure during his travels would somehow absolve him of his sins. But Kyoji is a completely selfish character. He has accepted money to murder someone to save himself and while he does feel remorse over what he has done he is totally focused on getting away with it. During the film it never occurs to him to turn himself in to the authorities. He doesn't hesitate to call his boss to ask for more money when he has been robbed, he steals to eat when he's out of cash and he even nags his boss about not wanting to live in Phuket.

When Kyoji finds out that it really is his boss who is behind all his bad luck he sets out to get revenge, because after all, the boss broke their deal. There is no sign in him making you think that he's actually seeing anything that happens as something he deserves because of the murder he committed, but how could he when he didn't know who was behind it?

When finally confronting his boss, Kyoji fails to kill him because of a change of mind caused by his boss' new girlfriend showing up, the woman with the baby that Kyoji befriended earlier on the ship. Kyoji leaves and meets his future assassin on a train and tells him he couldn't kill his boss because he was happy. "Who deserves to live more? A happy man or a homeless ghost?" It seems Kyoji, while not reaching redemption, has reached acceptance. He accepts his fate because of what he has done, but in no way has he attoned for it. Maybe he just realized that killing more people wouldn't solve anything, and like he told his boss, he can never be happy again anyway. Or perhaps it's like his boss said, cause and effect, when you do something bad, bad things happen to you (the invisible waves of the title?). This doesn't seem true to Kyoji's boss though since after hiring Kyoji to kill his cheating wife, he doesn't only get to live but he has a new wife and a baby. But there is a third possibility presented in the film by another character sent to kill Kyoji during his trip who simply says that Kyoji is the "dumbest smart guy" he has ever met.

The ending is the weakest part of the film, feeling rushed and incomplete. It might be on purpose, to put even more emphasis on Kyoji's journey in the first part of the film which also is the most rewarding. The atmosphere and feel of the film, created by Doyle's beautiful cinematography, Riddim's music and the slow pace, makes it feel like a film noir thriller set in the same world also created in Last Life in the Universe. Unlike Kyoji's, it is a wonderful trip but in the end, just like Kyoji, you have to peacefully accept that you don't always get what you want.