The last time we saw Jan Dara and the Gothic fornication of his crazy father was not that long ago _ in 2001 to be precise, in Nonzee Nimibutr's humourless film adaptation of Usana Ploengtham's darkly satirical book.
Jan Dara Starring Mario Maurer, Sakaraj Rirkthamrong, Bongkot Khongmalai, Savika Chaiyadej, Ratha Pho-ngarm. Directed by ML Bhandevanop Devakula. In Thai with English subtitles.
One of the most famous erotic Thai novels, The Story Of Jan Dara has been adapted for the cinema three times, with an increasing degree of bewilderment and naked flesh. The latest version, directed by ML Bhandevanop Devakula and released yesterday, adopts what we might term gaudy classicism, with fluttering curtains, angry thunderstorms, pink nipples, sex in a waterfall, sex by a water jar, sex in slow motion, group sex in slow motion, and bold political references that will provoke debate in the days to come.
That last element, in fact, is probably more orgiastic than the sex. The book made a passing reference to the Khana Rasadorn Revolution of June 24, 1932, that transformed Siam into constitutional monarchy. This film version expands the incident on that day and hazards the somewhat reactionary allusion that revolution is something close to debauchery. Befitting our politicised Thailand, the film that promises erotic liberalism drops a big, anti-liberalist bomb, then creates a carnal hothouse of Babylonian proportion that seems to critique the aristocratic class, and then has one of its servant characters condemning the revolution. It's a jumble, probably an interesting one, and it won't end soon: this Jan Dara is just the first film in a planned two-part franchise.
On that fateful day in 1932, Jan, played with strange stoicism by Mario Maurer, meets the woman he will forever treasure, a Muslim girl called Hyacinth, played by Savika Chaiyadej. We've seen earlier that Savika also plays Jan's mother, who dies giving birth to him, and the Oedipal machine kicks into gear with the groan of an antique spring bed. Yet the figure that looms large in the narrative is Jan's father, Luang Wisnan (Sakaraj Rirkthamrong), who regards Jan with inhuman, sadistic hatred because he believes the boy to be a curse that brought the death of his dear wife. The name Jan comes from jan rai _ scum or plague _ and the father's mission, apart from banging all his servants, is to make sure that Jan's life is one endless tragedy.
Wicked, sure, for Wisnan is an expert in sexual manipulation. He "seizes power" to rule the house over his wealthy aunt through the use of erotic cunning, winning over servants with sex. Jan, beaten by his dad and harbouring terminal guilt, grows up a mild masochist.
Deprived of maternal liquid, the boy longs for the warmth of female breasts (Freud's disciples are rubbing their hands) and he seeks it first from Aunt Wad (Bongkot Khongmalai), his stepmother who has a saucy sexual history of her own, and later from Madame Boonleung (Ratha Pho-ngarm), his father's lover who moves into the residence. To complete his growing pains in that funhouse, Jan's best friend is a male servant called Ken, a hunk, and the whiff of homoeroticism is tantalising despite the fact that they both share everything, including women.
Whether we can get past the supply of sex to the lesson of human weakness and immorality is an essential question. And whether sex is punishment or pleasure _ it tends towards the former, not surprisingly _ is the key to understanding this interpretation of the story that, when first published, pushed many envelopes. In the film, the lovemaking is profuse, but each exhibit is too brief, too choreographed to cross over into the terrain of genuine woe. The abyss is glimpsed, but we hardly see Jan stepping into it. Perhaps we have to watch the second part to justify the whole enterprise, or perhaps the best way to adapt Jan Dara, a strange and disturbing book, is to approach it as a comedy _ for the best comedy often strays into tragicomedy, if not into horror.
_ Kong Rithdee
On The Road Starring Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Sam Riley. Directed by Walter Salles. At Lido.
The tyres of Sal Paradise's old Buick quickly deflate, and not even Dean Moriarty _ the principle outlaw and charmer in chief of the Beat Generation _ can plug it. Not even Old Bull Lee, the literary avatar of William S. Burroughs and played with sinuous verve here by Viggo Mortensen, can salvage this insipid rendition of a seminal book. Walter Salles's long-awaited adaptation of Jack Kerouac's On The Road is much-awaited and rode on a sort of hype prior to its Cannes premiere in May, but in all and in short, this is something short of a joyride.
By taking on the book that defines the Beats _ and later a hipsters' handbook, minus Kerouac's spur of sad and cynical intellectualism _ Salles's rendition of the giddy, sex-fuelled free-spiritedness feels like a fanboy's salutation rather than a fresh look at the material and the gloriously lost boys of the era.
In its fuzzy-headed strategy that mixes the book with the process of writing the book, the film even includes a scene of Sal Paradise (the Kerouac stand-in, played by Sam Riley) writing On The Road on the now-famous scroll _ taped-together sheets fed into Kerouac's typewriter. At 137 minutes, Salles's movie doesn't produce that mad rush of Kerouac's adventures and his cross-country drives that explores the soul of his friends and lovers, his heroes and demons, the soul, as literary critics of his days put it, of mid-century America.
Garrett Hedlund plays Dean Moriarty _ the stand-in for the Beats' great muse Neal Cassidy _ the "devastatingly charming" soul who becomes Sal Paradise's buddy and the embodiment of that heady post-war time. Hedlund, last seen battling virtual assassins in Tron:Legacy, is certainly charming, though not devastatingly so.
In the book, Dean's belief in the fluidity of sex (he has a carnal encounter with Steve Buscemi) borders on recklessness; in the film, it seems calculated. Meanwhile fans (and detractors) of the Twilight saga will want to check out the film because of Kristen Stewart in the role of Marylou, the glamorously unglamorous lover of Dean and Sal who, at more than one point, merrily jumps into bed with both of them.
Salles _ who made The Motorcycle Diary, the Che Guevara version of On The Road _ faithfully trudges out the Beat icons one by one: Mortensen, as mentioned, as Burroughs and Tom Sturridge plays Carlo Marx, aka the young Allen Ginsberg, the most moving character in the ensemble because his vulnerability cuts through the headlong macho-world of the rest. Clutching Proust like proof of sanity, the band launches themselves into the whirlwind _ in the book that's a kind of youthful revelation that makes us want to hit the road to find something, anything, and to fantasise to be young and forgetful and criminal. In the movie, it's all exhibitionism, and it makes us want to hole up in a room, curtain drawn, reading On The Road from cover to cover once again.
_ Kong Rithdee
Ted Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis. Directed by Seth MacFarlane.
You already know Seth MacFarlane's debut feature film is about a vulgar and crude teddy bear that likes to smoke weed, get laid and is outrageously irresponsible, so no point re-elaborating that. In fact, that's all the movie's about: a man and his best teddy friend who don't seem to grow up, not even when his girlfriend (Mila Kunis) demands that the furry friend move out so they can take their relationship to the next level.
Ted, starring Mark Wahlberg, is definitely a "guy flick" with its cruel humour running alongside fat jokes, macho jokes and ugly jokes. It's something that doesn't require more than a frat boy's IQ to appreciate, so look elsewhere if you want sophisticated wit _ the laughs you'll get here are more 9GAG-style.
But ill-mannered cheek aside, there are a handful of surprises. You'll get fuzzy heart-warmers, because after all, it's a movie about a teddy bear (oh well). The cute furry thing has got to have its darling moments too and things will rip up both emotionally and physically towards the end.
Also, you'd think something seemingly idiotic like this would not give you chills, but it does. At least for three seconds, like every time the creepy dad and son that want to kidnap Ted show up.
The ending could have offered more, like bringing up the inevitable human condition of putting up with change. Seriously, even Toy Story 3 sent better messages. We'd have liked the ending to be more thought-provoking, but being a movie coming from MacFarlane, who brought us Family Guy, you shouldn't really be expecting anything too deep. Better save your bet for inanimate talking objects like teddy bears, dysfunctional dogs and annoying aliens instead.
_ Parisa Pichitmarn