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Original Title:

Thailand 2007


Pen-Ek Ratanaruang

Pornwut Sarasin
Lalita Panyopas
Apinya Sakuljaroensuk
Ananda Everingham
Porntip Papanai
Thaksakorn Pradapphongsa

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Story: Restaurant owner Wit (Pornwut Sarasin) and his wife Daeng (Lalita Panyopas), a former movie actress, come back from America to their home country Thailand, because they have to attend a funeral. The married couple takes a room in a hotel, but there isn't much to talk about with each other for a while already. Love isn't anything they feel towards each other for years already, instead there is a domestic coldness, which slowly but steadily drives a wedge into their relationship. When Wit flees his wife's eyes, taking a break at the hotel bar, he meets Ploy (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk), a girl waiting for her mother's arrival. Wit invites Ploy to his room for her to freshen up and take a rest for a few hours. Daeng isn't quite happy to let a stranger into her hotel room, even the more as she assumes that Wit might have sexual interest in Ploy. As always Daeng once again turns to alcohol and drugs during this crisis, yet she also tries to lead a serious conversation with Wit about their relationship. But Wit simply ignores her.
At the same time, the bar tender of the hotel (Ananda Everingham) and cleaning woman Tum (Porntip Papanai) engage into several sexual games. Their love stands in stark contrast to the cold marriage of Daeng and Wit, which steers towards a bad ending...

Review: If you would burn the world between dream and reality, respectively the moment between sleeping and being awake, on film, then you most probably would get "Ploy" as a result. Director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang should be a familiar name to some viewers of Asian cinema since his work "Last Life in the Universe". In fact, Pen-Ek already attracted attention with "6ixtynin9", a film that earned him the name "Thailand's Tarantino". However, his new preference for subtle and complex dramas in meditative pictures brought him big applause from foreign critics. Many thought that "Ploy" might be Pen-Eks return to his early works, most likely because he reunites with actress Lalita Panyopas whom he already casted in former works. But this assumption is simply wrong, since the director follows his newly chosen path unwaveringly, and thus creates a film, which for most might not be as easily accessable as "Last Life in the Universe" (which itself isn't easy to grasp to begin with), but which nonetheless proves to be a work that is almost as fascinating and dream-like as the mentioned movie.

"Ploy" works out so well because of its atmosphere, which is simply exceptionally compelling. This is even the more surprising as the pacing of the film is working on an extremely slow level. Pen-Ek takes his time to show even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant szenes in all their lengthiness, yet by doing so he creates a certain tension that would have been hard to achieve otherwise. So if you wonder why we have to observe for almost several minutes how Ploy is putting on her make-up, or how Daeng drinks her coffee, then you should ask yourself if the movie would had been able to create the same feeling, when these scenes would had been cut short. The somnambulistic-serene pacing of the film might still be the main flaw of the director's work, but it isn't there without a reason.
While Christopher Doyle was responsible for the intoxicating cinematography in the director's former works, it is Chankit Chamnivikaipong, a man who already worked for Pen-Ek Ratanaruang in "6ixtynin9", who proves in this film that he also has a knack for creating a tranquil and hypnotizing world with his images.

The movie's mood is also carried by a soundtrack, which is best described with the genre label Ambience. There is almost constantly an unvarying sound carpet of noise, to that degree that you can't be sure if it's actually ok to call it music. However, it does its share in carrying us off in this world between reality and dream, and it does so effectively. Narration-wise we also get to face a world between the worlds, and its ever apparent. Many scenes prove to be nothing more than a dream retrospectively, others though, could be part of reality. Therefore, the border becomes more and more blurry as time progresses and it remains the viewer's choice how to interpret certain scenes. This becomes especially apparent with the love relationship between the bar tender and the cleaning woman. This relationship stands in some sort of contrast to the cold relationship of the married couple and also offers some hot erotic scenes, which were cut by censorship officials in Thailand, even though they aren't that revealing, thus making them fit into this art house drama perfectly. Anyway, it's this relationship that Ploy tells us she dreamt about, and yet we are quite aware that it is also real. Or maybe not? "Ploy" plays with the viewer's perception and in the end leaves it open to the audience's interpretation which of the many possible ways to approach the film might be appropriate.

The actors in "Ploy" deliver nice performances, more than anyone else the married couple of course, played by Lalita Panyopas and acting-newcomer Pornwut Sarasin. The depicted relationship has its typical share of problems you have when being married for 7 years and yet their portrayal of a matrimonial community doesn't come off as a simple cliché. On the contrary, especially the dialogues can be surprisingly profound, which makes you wonder, why they didn't make use of them more in the movie. Is Wit right and does marriage have an expiration date that you don't know? Why does Wit invite the girl Ploy over to his house? At first, we believe that he actually might have a sexual interest in this boyish looking and very young girl, but in time it more looks like as if he brought Ploy into his marriage as a foreign body in order to enforce some change and to release the always apparent tension between him and Daeng in an emotional explosion. At the same time Ploy also is something like a parson to him, even though he may be the one who, of the couple, seems the least in need of such a person. His impassiveness towards his wife isn't an honest one, and so we almost get the impression - or at least that's one way to interpret things - that he wants to save his marriage, actually.

The protagonists in the movie all didn't sleep much and the events all take place during the early morning. The feeling of loneliness and longing is therefore celebrated in a an almost unique and dreamy way, which in its way has something beautiful about it. Still, you have to be willing to go along with the meditative pacing of the film, otherwise "Ploy" will prove to be nothing more than plain boring for you, despite a certain tension about what might happen next or what might actually be dream or reality.
Another weakness is the odd and obscure story of Daeng towards the end, which just seems out of place and would had best been replaced by another one. Apart from that, there is nothing more objective to be said about "Ploy", as this is a movie that you simply have to "feel" for yourself. And as it is always the case with feelings, they can be quite different for each one. Some will love this picture because of its atmosphere and mood, others will maybe just find it boring because of its drowy pacing. In any case, "Ploy" is something special and sheds some light on the problems in a relationship in a refreshingly different way. Thai-cinema is still up on the rise!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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