Thursday, March 02, 2006

" invisible story "


march 2nd - invisible waves, thailand, 9:20pm **

i wrote in a post the other day about the having access and the privilege of attending the opening film at the bangkok international film festival, and now i have something else to say.

i remember the "red carpet" (which was really more like red felt) m.c.'s asking asano tadanobu about how he felt about being in such a prestigious production such as "invisible waves." he looked so confused, not because of his thoughts about the question, but perhaps about the fact that people had an opinion on a film (which was premiering that night) that they had not even seen, let alone knew enough about to have a solid reaction to.

[observational sidenote: these opening ceremony m.c.'s represented perfect examples of thailand's definition of having gone "inter." going inter is most commonly defined by having the qualities character which demonstrate an international knowledge of both cultural isms (usually meaning speaking english better than school-learned "tinglish") and also being of a more internationally flavored style, meaning dressing horribly over-the-top in a fashion-based caricature of what is believed to be "western style" (ie-fashion whore/executive/model style, hip-hop/bandanna street-cred/b-boy style, super metrosexual or wussy-clothed with sunglasses at night). the ironic aspect of all this is that it's wholly possible now to "go inter" without ever leaving thailand. and this is just silly.]

this brings up the other side of filmmaking which is post-production, marketing, and hype. if you can get the word out on a film, its contents, its immense cinematic weight, and the pre-importance of its existence well before it's even screened, then you know that half of the job is done. tickets will be sold initially upon word of mouth and expectation.

this being the case, alongside the last beautiful film made by pen-ek ratanareung, i really did expect another heartfelt subtle and beautiful film from him and his fellow makers. i tried to base my eagerness to the fact that i saw his previous films heading towards something greater with each effort, and was looking forward to a movie that not only would have more support from thailand, but from other makers, actors, and production folks as well.

invisible waves felt like an elusive search for the base of the story. it developed so ambiguously forward, that at times, you could see tinges of tsai ming-liang, but they never really flushed out or made itself apparent.

the sense of lingering created expectations that were never fulfilled. to create such a longing also creates desire, both for the sake of the story and its characters, and also for the parallel enjoyment/entertainment of the audience. but this lingering kept finding itself at dead end edits, making me feel more alienated and ultimately less interested.

to create this desire means that the story(teller) and its characters have something to say. something to express. something that doesn't necessarily have to be spoon-fed, but i believe that they have to present themselves or their desires to a point so you can understand why they do the things they do. at the closing credits, i was still unsure why the characters did, said, felt (in the long run rather than for the sake of a scene), and thought.

this brings me to editing. you have to be able to tell the difference at times, between bad acting and bad editing. the first point, bad acting, could be attributed to the in this case overuse of predominantly non-asian speakers speaking in english.

okay, so it's really just two of the main characters, but the observation still stands; speaking in english sometimes may add a certain international flare for conveying a world where many languages can be spoken and understood, but i can also be used as a critical weapon against believability. and i found myself feeling that the acting (in english) for the main two characters to be used in an appropriate for the story and location's sakes, but still odd and wooden all the same.

the other example of recent memory that i can think of that uses asian actors is a similarly confusing manner is of course "memoirs of a geisha." and believe me, you'll say that they're not even the same sort of movie, and i can say that if you want, i can draw many parallels in terms of representation and utilization. try me.

on the point of editing, i think that you should strive to cut to the story's framework or you can cut to embellish upon a stylistic necessity on the story's behalf. over two-thirds of the edits in this film follow the tone of the feel of the movie, but sadly that tone is monotonous, bleak(both as a "look" and a boring manner), and steady throughout. i found myself at times genuinely interested in where it was all going, but then it would linger on something completely unnecessary, then cut to something else entirely.

pen-ek himself states that the story is of the thriller genre, and that he is trying to turn the genre around in a different manner, but there are no thrills. there is no point at which i felt aligned with even the main character enough to care about whether or not he finds out the things that he find out. there is no height to the film; there is no heft.

there are no key attributes except the expectation from elements of the genre, but i'm not saying that all thrillers must follow these expectations. i'm saying rather, that without those elements, what you have is a film that is trying to be more that what its presenting itself to be, and if you don't establish the tone early on, it's hard for the audience to see that you know enough about what you're trying to tweak within the genre, for it to become something forwarding and interesting. think memento for the film noir and what that did for the way a story can be told.

he also states that what is important to this film is atmosphere. repeatedly, "...what is important in this film is atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere and atmosphere."

i do agree with him about setting an atmospherical feel, but the sense of atmosphere i saw in this story left me with words like elusive, lost, confusing, ambiguity, the lack of emotional weight, the lack of a sense of solid anchoring, and at the end, a feeling that everything that should eventually have been revealed never reveals itself. and that makes for a frustrating viewing.

sadly, i liked the bits and pieces in the film that showed the side of thailand that i usually am annoyed by in their representation on/in film. the street vendors and their shoddy set-up tables, the shady guesthouse owner, the day-workers building shoddy buildings in flip-flops and perched high on bamboo scaffolding, and (in this film, delightfully accurate) the tout taxi driver that for some reason has all of the answers to the questions you never asked.

as i left the theatre i could only think of how such a great cast of modern thespians could be so miscast for this particular vague storyline. also how such great makers such as pen-ek and his now second-time cinematographer mr. christopher doyle, could produce such a smattering of odd-duck visually under-exposed pseudo day-for-night but overly dim shots. it's almost to the point of being shocking, but never got the steam up enough to be in the same category as shocking. it's more like disappointing.

as a thai person that is also a to-be-filmmaker, i am always eager to see what thailand's best up-and-coming makers have to offer, if not only just to see that it can be done. and i root and support and have such a higher standard for my own people because these are the makers that inspire me. and also i want to believe that it will be done.

so with those thoughts in mind, i can only look forward to either being exposed to certain truths by other people's interpretations of the film, or to the next film which undoubtedly could be the masterpiece i so wanted this one to be.