Director: Chayanop Boonprakob and Kriangkrai Vachiratamporn, Nithiwat Tharatorn, Jira Maligool
Cast: Nine Naphat, Violette Wautier, Mew Nittha, Sunny Suwanmethanont, Ter Chantavit, Noona Neungthida
Runtime: 2 hrs 24 mins
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 9 March 2017
Synopsis: ‘A Gift’ is the next captivating offering from GDH honouring the King’s musical compositions by highlighting his songs within a cinematic symphony of romance, soul-searching drama and heartwarming humour. This film is dedicated to King Bhumibol Adulyadej as an end-of-year gift to all the people of Thailand. The film tells the story of 6 people who are trying to overcome challenges that life has thrown at them. ‘A Gift’ is unwrapped for your viewing pleasure using a three-degree of separation narrative, divided into three parts and filmed by three different directing teams.
Besides being a revered monarch for more than half a century, King Bhumibol Adulyadej was also an accomplished musician – and ‘A Gift’ pays tribute to the man by using three of his most recognized compositions as inspiration for three separate but tangentially associated stories on love, sacrifice and the pursuit of one’s passions. Seeing as how it has been barely six months since King Bhumibol’s passing, it is of course easy to dismiss this triptych of feel-good rom-coms as no more than cash-grab; and yet it is undeniable that there is heart and warmth in each one of the straightforward but uplifting tales from the producers of ‘I Fine.. Thank You… Love You’, so if you’re willing to cast aside your cynicism, you’ll find that ‘A Gift’ is not without its simple pleasures.
Romance is the first order of the day with Chayanop Boonprakob and Kriangkrai Vachiratamporn’s ‘Love at Sundown’, which unfolds largely over the course of a single day between two strangers Beam (Naphat Siangsomboon) and Pang (Violette Wautier) who meet at the rehearsal for a scholarship awards ceremony to be presided by the Russian ambassador and his wife. Chosen at random to stand-in as the guest-of-honour couple, Beam and Pang start off at odds due to the former’s flirtatious ways, but start to bond as Pang opens up about her unfaithful boyfriend Ong (whom you can probably guess will turn up – and indeed does – at some point to try to salvage the relationship).
The set-up is hardly new, but the writers-directors manage some genuinely funny scenes – one such sequence has Beam deliberately flirting with Pang’s good friend Ploysang after she claims that the latter is her girlfriend in a bid to get him off her back; another has Beam sharing about a previous romance gone bad which left the girl so distraught she became a fitness buff and ended training up muscles. Thanks too to the effervescent chemistry between dashing newcomer Siangsomboon and singer-turned-actress Wautier, this segment is genuinely sweet, charming and winning, culminating in a cautiously optimistic note on the night of the ceremony itself that has the couple confronting whether to continue their budding romance.
Things take a more sober turn in Nithiwat Tharatorn’s ‘Still On My Mind’, which centres around 20-plus-year old Fa (Mew Nittha) who takes up the responsibility of caring for her Alzheimer’s-stricken father Pom after her mother Fah passes away. Not only is she forced to contend with his absent-mindedness (such as forgetting to turn off the kitchen tap or placing his clothes in the refrigerator), Fa also has to wrestle with her father’s refusal to accept her mother’s death. While fiddling with the old piano at home one day, Fa discovers that her late mother’s favourite tune ‘Still On My Mind’ triggers her father’s memories of the past – and so, she decides to practice and perform it on the occasion of her parents’ wedding anniversary, enlisting a dreamy-eyed piano tuner Aey (Sunny Suwanmethanont) to assist her in the process.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Aey and Fa will eventually fall in love with each other, and Tharatorn builds their romance through caring for Pom. Between buying Pom’s favourite congee with pork and accompanying Fa on the day of the anniversary as Pom drives around picking up his wedding suit and ring, Aey impresses upon Fa that making her father realize the truth may not be better than letting him live his own way. Suwanmethanont and Nittha are not quite as engaging as Siangsomboon and Wautier, but arguably the relationship between Aey and Fa is secondary to that between Fa and her father – and thankfully, the heartfelt performances and down-to-earth scenarios make the emotional core between father and daughter real, keenly felt and ultimately poignant.
Choosing to end on an upbeat note, Jira Maligool’s ‘New Year Greeting’ sees a former rock band lead singer Llong (Ter Chantavit) join a financial analysis company only to rediscover his love for music when he encounters members of an amateur office band, including HR co-worker Kim (Noona Neungthida) whom he develops a connection with. More so than the previous two segments, this finale is constructed to elicit maximum laughs – from a ‘faux’ horror sequence in which Llong hears strange noises in the darkened office when he first stumbles onto the office band playing after hours, to Llong and Kim’s recruitment of the unlikeliest office types to augment their band, and to the actual practice sessions carefully timed to avoid the scrutiny of their disapproving supervisor Ms Supanika.
Relative to the preceding two segments, this one is the most lightweight, but therein lies the charm of Maligool’s concluding piece. It doesn’t get preachy about its central message of fighting for your dreams (which incidentally happens to be the title of one of Llong’s former band’s songs) or its other underlying theme about recognizing the hidden talents within each and every individual, no matter how dorky, eccentric or lowly-skilled. It is free to therefore indulge in silly humour (such as how Ms Supanika’s disapproval stems from having to listen to Llong singing on her car stereo from when her son was in ninth grade till when he went to university) without being tonally awkward. And if you’ve seen Chantavit in ‘One Day’, ‘ATM’ or ‘Hello Stranger’, you’ll know he’s perfect for such material.
Even though it was conceived as tribute to King Bhumibol, ‘A Gift’ never gets sycophantic in its adulation of the late monarch; instead, it finds everyday situations, circumstances and persons to relate to the King’s musical compositions, demonstrating implicitly how he was never far or removed from the lives of his people. So yes, it doesn’t take a Thai to enjoy this collection of three short stories heartwarming in their own right – and what more, with such good-looking young actors and actresses headlining each one of them, there is no question this gift’s pleasures can be universal.
(Finding beauty in simplicity, this triptych of stories inspired by the late King Bhumibol’s compositions is alternately funny, poignant and heart-warming)
Review by Gabriel Chong