Our first guess is that a documentary about young backpackers embarking on a cross-continental journey must be more or less about seeking the meaning of life. But after one of the characters throws us such a great dilemma as "to poop, or not to poop" _ a quandary facing most travellers in a tight spot to catch a train _ it's no longer that easy to surmise where this film will take us.
A scene from Wish Us Luck , by Wanweaw and Weawwan Hongvivatana.
As their joint MA final project at University for the Creative Arts in England, Wish Us Luck, which is showing now at House RCA, is a travelogue documentary by twin sisters Wanweaw and Weawwan Hongvivatana. The film is the record of their one-month-long journey from London to Bangkok by train.
"We got the inspiration from Zcongklod Bangyikhan's travel memoir Dao Haang Neu Taang Rodfai [Comet Over Railway Line]," said Weawwan, who is five minutes younger than her sister and also the author of a travel memoir by the same title. "At first, we just wanted to travel and make our first full-length film. It was only later that we decided to do it as our final university project as well."
The film narrates the two sisters' journey from London through Paris, Berlin, St Petersburg, where they ride the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow going across to Irkutsk, passing Ulan Bator in Mongolia down to Beijing, moving on to Hanoi and Vientiane before crossing the border to Nong Khai and arriving finally in Bangkok.
Instead of loading the audience with visits to landmarks, most of the 94-minute movie consists of passing landscapes, everyday scenes of buildings, houses, streets and people in each city they stopped at, and of themselves sitting and lying around on the train.
"We think of it more as a video diary rather than a travel documentary," said Wanwaew. "Taking the audience to see famous spots is probably boring and too much like a TV programme. We want to show what's behind the scenes as well, making the audience feel as they were really there with us."
The soundtrack for the scenes from the train windows is a conversation between the two backpackers _ such random topics as what to do next with the documentary, a complaint about how exhausted they are with the trip, a fight as the two argue over who is contributing more the project, or simply a chit-chat about heartbreak and boyfriends.
Wanweaw said: "We feel that what's happening in front of us doesn't have only just one layer. It's not like we're looking at the sea, hearing the waves, and that's just that. There can be many layers overlapping one another."
If this documentary were a person, a travel companion maybe, he wouldn't be the kind of pretentious know-it-all who tries to convince you that a trip like this would give all the answers to life's mysteries.
He would be but an ordinary fellow with whom you feel relaxed, not pretending about who he is and never sounding contrived.
"Before setting out, we thought that this would be a life-changing experience, and that we would instantly become new people if we succeeded," Wanweaw said. "But when we arrived at Hua Lamphong, we realised that we hadn't dramatically changed. It turned out to be just one ordinary trip which would reveal more of its meaning as time goes by. So if we were to force that idea of a life-changing experience into the film, it would be to dramatise it.
"We want to present it in the most natural way possible."
Although everything in the film was unscripted, there are a lot of things that give a "movie feel" to this otherwise humdrum documentary with pictures of landscapes and random chattering.
Along the way, what the sisters experience adds cinematic flavours, like when they try to secretly videotape what's going on in a police station, or when a creepy, shirtless guy tries to climb up to one of the sisters' berths, or when a seemingly mad hobo presents them with flowers like in a romantic comedy, or when a quiet aunty unexpectedly turns out to be a mezzo-soprano snorer at night. Sometimes life is stranger _ or funnier _ than fiction.
In terms of what they hope the audience will get from the documentary, Wanwaew said: "We know that this film is personal because we say things just like the way we talk to a friend, and although some audience members may be able to relate to it only at one level, we do hope that Wish Us Luck can inspire people to travel or make films even though they have never done it before."
The interesting thing about this documentary is not so much what they encountered during the trip as the creative handling, editing, and presentation of material they have shot. Wish Us Luck is not exactly an event-filled ride, but it should at least be satisfying for those who want to travel the world but cannot spare more than two hours of their time.
Wish Us Luck is on at House RCA.
About the author
Writer: Kaona Pongpipat