Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Love of Siam (Rak Haeng Siam)


Much have been raved about Matthew Chukiat Sakveerakul's The Love of Siam, and thankfully I had managed to catch this on screen after it's been playing for some time over here on only one screen. Sakveerakul is perhaps more famous here for his thriller 13 Beloved (renamed 13: Game of Death here), but through this film had demonstrated he's equally adept at telling a romance and family drama.

The prologue for the film is somewhat extended, setting the stage for the lead characters. We have Mew (Witwisit Hiranyawongjul) who spends his childhood with his grandmother (Pimpan Buranapim), whose neighbours are a tight knit Catholic family headed by dad Korn (Songsit Roongniphakunsri), domineering mother Sunee (Sinraj Plengpanit), and children Tong (Mario Maurer) and Tang (Laila Boonyasak). A hiking trip resulted in the disappearance of Tang, and the grieving family moves away, temporarily grinding the friendship of the two boys Mew and Tong, to a halt.

Fast forward to today, Mew is now the brains and lead singer behind his huge boy band August, and is being courted by neighbour Ying (Kanya Rattapetch). Tong too faces girlfriend woes, where the school flower and spoilt brat Donut (Aticha Pongsilpipat, in a rather needless role here compared to Rattapetch's) faces a nonchalant Tong and draws an ultimatum of sorts. Sparks fly when the two boys reunite by chance on the streets, sparking into motion a series of events that would inevitably lead to a homosexual romance.

While it's easy to fall into a gimmicky promotional angle using the love between Tong and Mew, this film offered a lot more, especially that between Tong's family members. The missing Tang had caused Korn to become an insufferable alcoholic, while the mother stoically holds the family together, and the last thing she expects is for Tong to develop a liking for Mew. This segment of the story kicked into melodramatic overdrive when mom Sunee, with the help of the boys, convinces their friend June (also played by Laila Boonyasak), a dead ringer for her child, to pose as Tang and to snap Korn out of his depression.

Sakveerakul managed to weave into the narrative the different kinds of love all into one film - the unrequited, first crushes, first love, unconditional ones as given by parents to child, even stand-by-mes encouragement, support as seen by the members of August, and of course, bromance. With the family angle, there's the theme of coming to terms, and learning to let go, which I felt was the richer of the two main threads running through the narrative.

It's a beautiful film, not only because having a bevy of pretty looking cast members helped, but also because it had a wonderful looking set of production sets and values, and while I have to rely on the subtitles to understand the song lyrics, the melodies here are simply marvelous. Korea and Japan had to watch out, because Sakveerakul has shown that Thailand is fast catching up in making heartfelt, coming of age romances that would tug at your heartstrings.

What's more interesting here is that the film is rated M18, without a cut detected, and even more so, the kissing scenes between Mew and Tong were left intact. Many years ago, there would be a straight out censorship snip at the scene to the cutting room floor, and in more recent times, a scene like this would be shortened and slapped with an R21 rating. An M18 rating for this seemed to point to a relaxation of the rules, though A Frozen Flower had demonstrated that sex between men are still snipped and slapped with an R21 rating.

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