Director: Parkpoom Wongpoom
Cast: Teeradon ‘James’ Supapunpinyo, Cherprang Areekul, Suquan Bulakul, Roj Kwantham, Natthasit Kotimanaswanich, Saruda Kiatwarawut, Nopachai Jayanama, Cherman Boonyasak, Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Suda Chuenban, Natthaya Ongsritragul
Runtime: 2 hrs 13 mins
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 24 January 2019
Synopsis: “You were granted a prize.” A mysterious man who calls himself, the Guardian, (Nopachai Jayanama) told me as we were standing on the outer wall of the hospital building that was turned sideways as if we were defying gravity. Before I could take in what happened, the Guardian grabbed me by my collar, forcing me to listen to him explain about the prize that a stray soul like me was given. I was sent to live again in the body of a high school teenager named Min (Teeradon Supapunpinyo) who was lying dead in the morgue in this hospital. In fact, living in a new body is no different to living in a homestay. It’s temporary and not for free. Within 100 days, I have to find out “who is responsible for Min’s death”. If I fail, I will die and leave this homestay for eternity. Actually, I didn’t think I would enjoy living in this homestay this much. Having a new family and new friends doesn’t make my heart beat as fast as when I met Pi (Cherprang Areekul), Min’s tutoring peer. She is the one who makes me want to extend my stay in this body forever. But, just like time, life and love seem like prizes from heaven that are given to me only temporarily, I have to do whatever it takes to find the answer to the Guardian’s question before my time in this homestay runs out.
On paper, ‘Homestay’ sounds like a genre disaster.
It starts off like a horror movie, with our lead protagonist Min (Teeradon Supapunpinyo) waking up dazed and confused in a morgue, before encountering a number of spooky characters at the hospital. Then it morphs into a teenage rom-com, as he returns to high school and starts romancing his tutoring peer Pi (Cherpang Areekul) over fireworks on the rooftop during Loi Krathong and other one-on-one dates. Next, it becomes a whydunnit, with Min racing against time to find out why he had committed suicide earlier on. Last but not least, it settles into a poignant drama about coping with life’s imperfections and learning to recognise the positives in life.
Even at a longer-than-usual two-and-a-quarter hour duration, that is a lot of ground for director and co-writer Parkpoom Wongpoom to cover, not to mention the tonal shifts which he has to navigate along the way. It is therefore even more impressive that Wongpoom does so as deftly as he does here, not only ensuring that the various plot elements cohere with one another, but also enabling each to hit its intended emotional beats.
You’ll be intrigued, you’ll swoon, you’ll be captivated, and you’ll be moved by this unexpectedly potent mix of different genres, which Wongpoom and his four co-writers have drawn from Japanese novelist Eto Mori’s ‘Colourful’, even if this is a much more predictable affair than the usual GDH crowd-pleasers.
Central to the film’s premise is the reason(s) for Min’s suicide, which as you can probably guess, are inextricably linked to the identity of the spirit that now inhabits Min’s physical body.
The early scenes explain just how it works: said spirit is told by a body-swapping entity known as the Guardian that he has won the opportunity for a second chance in life, provided that he is able to correctly answer why the person whose body he now lives in had killed himself in the first place. So the spirit goes about assuming and acquainting himself with Min’s life, including a father who had quit his job as a university lecturer to be a multi-level marketer selling supplements, a mother whose work requires that she travel to the distant province of Rayong for stretches, and an older brother Menn who seems to resent his very presence in the family.
Any or every of Min’s close ones – not just his family, but also Pi as well as his best friend Li (Saruda Kiatwarawut) – could have been responsible for Min’s death, and the narrative here touches on themes from the obvious teen suicide to less expected ones like school pressures and family dysfunction.
These are weighty subjects all right, and those expecting the usual verve and comedy from the GDH films should note that their latest is a much less cheerful, even depressing, affair. It is heartbreaking to hear Min’s frustrations that he pens in a suicide note, reflecting the impact of his family’s fracture on him; equally devastating to watch is the extent of Pi’s overachieving tendencies, and the abuse that she is willing to tolerate (as well as the cost of it on her) in order to remain as an elite Olympics student in school.
As convenient as it may be to turn tragedy into melodrama, the movie never does become histrionic or overblown, even during its more emotionally manipulative moments. That is credit in part to Wongpoom’s own restraint, as it is testament to the charm of the teenage stars, who carry the movie confidently with charm, versatility and sincerity.
You’ll probably recognise Supapunpinyo from last summer’s ‘Bad Genius’, and like his debut, he proves magnetic to watch here, particularly as he transforms effortlessly from confused to carefree to repressed over the course of the movie. Areekul, better known as captain of the idol girl group BNK48, is just as fascinating in her big-screen debut – not only does she ooze sweet girl-next-door charm with Supapunpinyo in their early scenes, she convincingly takes her performance to another level later on portraying Pi’s inner disillusionment.
So even if you can probably guess where the movie is going, you’ll still feel keenly the visceral impact of the revelations, which underscore the emotional and psychological struggles of adolescence amidst dysfunction at home and in school. Parents need not worry though; it does end on an uplifting and reassuring note, with an unequivocal message to never give up on oneself, and to find reason for living even amidst one’s darkest days.
If ‘Homestay’ sounds like a curious title for the movie, that’s because it refers to how the spirit is only given 100 days to stay in Min’s body at the first instance, and it is too a metaphor for how our spirits will one day depart our physical selves. Like life itself, the movie is filled with moments of joy, sorrow, disappointment and ultimately hope, and we say that is reason enough for you to make an appointment with it.
(It isn't your typical GDH crowd-pleaser, but this ode to the struggles of adolesence in the midst of family and school dysfunction is alternately heart-breaking and heart-warming, yet always heartfelt)
Review by Gabriel Chong