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Sawatwong Palakawong Na Autthaya
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A mysterious, obsessive-compulsive, suicidal Japanese man living in Bangkok, Thailand, is thrown together with a Thai woman through a tragic chain of events. The woman is everything he is not. He is a neat freak who keeps his dishes washed and his books neatly stacked and categorized. She dresses like a slob, smokes pot and never picks anything up. It's a match that somehow works, though. Slowly and entertainingly, more is revealed about the Japanese man and why he's suicidal and living in Bangkok. Written by
"Last Life in the Universe (Ruang rak noi nid mahasan)" is a testimonial to opening up films to new voices around the world, as Thai director/co-writer Pen-Ek Ratanaruang completely re-invents the worn-out Hollywood genre of opposites meeting cute and attracting (viz. "Laws of Attraction" or "Forces of Nature") that even the French could barely resuscitate in "Jet Lag (Décalage horaire)."
If I hadn't read a promotional flyer after the movie identifying the star Tadanobu Asano as also having been in "Zatôichi: The Blind Swordsman" I wouldn't have realized that the charismatic ronin there was the still, isolated, seriously depressed obsessive-compulsive here, but now I see why he's a big star in Japan and I will catch up on his films (oh, he's married to a pop star, directing her music videos, and in his own rock band, too, but I digress, sigh).
"Kenji" meets up with "Noi" a live wire, profane wreck of a Thai escort in tragic-comic circumstances brought on by their siblings that insert startling, balletic violence into the dream-like cinematography by Australian Christopher Doyle, reinforced by the mesmerizing music of Hualongpong Riddim.
But it took me as a monolingual American awhile to figure out that their communication difficulties were based on their limited language commonality as I couldn't tell when a character was speaking in Thai or Japanese (perhaps the annoying white-on-white subtitles could have included some coded indicators) until they ended up struggling in pidgin English. I'm sure I missed many other cultural clues (though I did pick up the telltale yakuza back tattoos that complicate their odd idyll outside Bangkok).
They contradict each other's expectations- he's allergic to sushi, she's surrounded in Western accoutrements; he's mysteriously left Japan, she's determined to emigrate there, and so on.
Slapsticky comedy and a sweet children's book continually lull us to the dangers they trip over. The lovely magic realism leaves the resolution up to interpretation, but I don't think I've ever seen such a moving courtship over the use of an ashtray or as sexy a hopeful line as "Tomorrow we'll do the laundry."
This has to be the offbeat romance of the year.
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