Sunday, December 05, 2010

Hello Stranger (กวน มึน โฮ / Kuan Meun Ho)

Sarang Hae Yo

Those of us outside Thailand will regard the Thai film production company GTH with some of the best horror films to have come out of the Kingdom in recent years, and introducing a promising crop of young filmmakers under its fold to which audiences round the world have associated with Shutter, and the two 4bia films. Banjong Pisanthanakun, one half of the famed dynamic duo who brought us Shutter, now switches from horror to romantic comedy with Hello Stranger, and with Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story already under GTH's belt, one wonders if this is another genre that they're branching out since horror and romance are quite the crowd pleasers in Asia.

Strangely enough, this Thai romantic comedy is set in South Korea, a country which like Japan has their own fair share of genre films rolling off their assembly line. Perhaps it's a nod in their direction, and a knock on their doors that Thailand can produce an equally entertaining film that in my opinion can challenge some of their best, and that of Hollywood's as well. Needless to say the significance of setting it in South Korea, which has its romantic drama serials to thank for in boosting its tourism arrivals as its pop culture made waves throughout Asia, and the story here by Chantawit Thanasewee rides on that phenomenon, having the female lead (Nuengtida Sopon) as an equally inspired tourist that wriggles her way from her possessive manic boyfriend to make her solo fangirl trip to visit places made famous by the dramas.

I had visited Korea before the K-craze ruled supreme and having that re-look into the sights and sounds of Korea from a touristy perspective again was a treat. I'm sure there are many out there who have visited Korea thanks to being influenced by its dramas, and will probably find it easy to identify with the intentions of the female lead, going ga-ga over statues of stars, and having to eat and drink in the exact same places featured in films. A chance encounter, which is a cliched staple for a romantic film to work, sees her bump into Chantavit Dhanasevi's lovelorn guy, who goes on a package tour after being dumped by his girlfriend, and through a series of errors, sees himself stuck with the fangirl.

I suppose one will never turn away a countryman in a foreign land who seems lost and doesn't speak the language nor English to get by, so the pair hook up for travels, but make a pact not to tell each other their names, which would suppose to get them to be brutally honest with each other. But you can bet your last dollar that with one just being dumped, and the other having to escape from the clutches of a possessive boyfriend, this new found freedom and opportunity, will lead to hearts set to flutter, but not before the story gets to put them through the paces necessary for chemistry to build, and for the characters to click. There's the obligatory outing where they discover more about themselves, a wedding to go to, counseling sessions to open up their hearts, and that proverbial spanner in the works to toss everything up and to test the strength of their new found friend/relation-ship.

Banjong Pisanthanakun seems comfortable in handling the genre, tackling mushy romance with comedy with aplomb, and you'll soon find yourself laughing along and at their antics. Given its run time of just over two hours, there are numerous sequences designed to cheer the duo on as we the audience find that they make quite the couple, but for them to constantly deny that absolute truth. The director also found plenty of opportunity to lampoon the Korean phenomenon on tourism and romantic films, and therein lies plenty of comedic irony in the story. The production stuck to safe parameters to deliver a romantic comedy within expectations, though of course given Pisanthanakun's first foray into the genre, he might have wanted to play it a little safe.

Unless you're Han Yew Kwang wanting to experiment with an unromantic film like in his When Hainan Meets Teochew, chances are the leads in any romantic flick tend to be extremely good looking. Newcomer Nuengtida Sopon plays her extremely likable character of optimistic nature with great comic timing and it'll be interesting to note how her film career will branch off from this. Chantavit Dhanasevi's character though calls for a lot more range as he begins as quite the sulker, before love transforms his demeanour from negative to positive, then followed by a pretty lovelorn turn into the wishy-washy, which is a big no-no. Both leads share a comfortable chemistry that made this believable without turning you off with too much cliched and kitsch moments that will make your hair stand on ends. Instead you'll find this episode rather believable, though detractors will moan at the finale, which I agree tend to be a tad too dragged out, and interpretation will depend on the kind of mood you're in when you watch the film.

Thailand has shown that it has no lack of talent to tackle romantic leading roles, and I wonder how long it will take for Singapore to come out with something uniquely identifiable as our own, as past efforts don't really seem to be burning up the local box office like how the foreign films do. I'd recommend this film for the K-culture and romantic buffs most definitely.

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