Director: Vithaya Thongyuyong
Cast: Sunny Suwanmethanon, Nichkhun Buck Horvejkul, Urassaya Sperbund
RunTime: 2 hrs 4 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 12 July 2018
Synopsis: BROTHER OF THE YEAR tells the story of Jane and her annoying older brother Chut, who always ruin her romantic relationships. It is no surprise when Jane meets the perfect boyfriend Moji, Chut goes all out to put a stop to anything that makes his little sister happy!
We must admit that we weren’t too taken with the trailer of ‘Brother of the Year’ – the latest comedy from Thai powerhouse studio GDH after last year’s regional megahit ‘Bad Genius’ – which had suggested an unusual sibling rivalry taken to hysterical proportions. Oh yes, according to the trailer, in order to get back at his overbearing younger sister Jane (TV actress Urassaya Sperbund making her big-screen debut), her older brother Chut (Sunny Suwanmethanont) decides to sabotage her budding romance with Moji (Nichkhun Horvejkul) by revealing just how much of an alpha female she is. But we’re glad that what was sold is really a gross over-representation of the actual love-hate relationship between Chut and Jane, which in fact is a lot more nuanced, a lot more poignant and a lot less over-the-top than we were led to believe.
In fact, what you see in the trailer is but the first act of the movie, which establishes both the conflict between Chut and Jane and the attraction between Jane and Moji. Beginning with Chut’s dismay when Jane returns one evening to Bangkok after completing four years of university studies in Japan, the swiftly-paced narrative alternates between Chut and Jane to express just how they feel about each other – whereas Chut is annoyed and exasperated at having to live under the shadow of his younger sister who grows up to nag at his slovenly habits, Jane is utterly disappointed that her older brother is nothing like the role model and guardian she had expected him to be. To co-writer and director Vithaya Thongyuyong’s credit, he doesn’t intend or come out taking either Chut or Jane’s side, so you’d actually empathise with both their mutual frustrations at each other.
At the same time, Jane’s audition for a job at a Japanese company turns into a meet-cute on the baseball field with her boss Moji. Apparently it is tradition to initiate a newcomer with a game of baseball, but unbeknownst to Moji and the rest of his colleagues, Jane is quite the striker on the field, having been introduced to the sport by none other than Chut himself. Indeed, one of the most hilarious sequences in the film explains how Chut got the nickname ‘Coochie’ when he and Jane were in junior high school, and the latter had innocently used a pad to cover the former’s bloody chin after knocking him out cold with a baseball bat in front of their schoolmates. Alas, things become even more complicated for the both of them when the same company she now works for happens to be one of the key accounts that Chut’s high-flying advertising executive himself services.
A couple of careless words uttered at the urinals following an awkward pitch meeting precipitates a series of complications that entangle the personal and professional lives of Chut, Jane and Moji – and without giving too much away, suffice to say that Chut becomes depressed after being taken off the account at Jane’s instruction, and Jane and Moji are forced to decide just how much they want to be together after Moji is abruptly re-deployed back to Japan. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Jane eventually chooses to take the leap of faith with Moji, and the wedding preparations as well as her impending move to Kitakyushu with him further strains the bond between brother and sister. Again, as is the case with such frictions, both Chut and Jane are to blame for their deteriorating state of affairs, with the onus being on both of them simultaneously to make up or make things even worse.
If it isn’t yet clear, the film switches gears in the second half to become less of a comedy than an honest and heartfelt exploration of the ties that bind Chut and Jane. While Jane will come to acknowledge just how much of an enduring influence Chut has been on her and try to make amends for the wrongs she has done, Chut himself is also forced to put aside his pride and come to see with humility his own shortcomings as well as how much Jane actually cares for him. As cliched as that may sound, the process and journey with which Thongyuyong brings his viewers on is nothing but, and let’s just say that we were really surprised by how moved we were by the time Chut and Jane finally put their differences aside and reconcile with each other – in particular, we liked how the movie doesn’t rush into that inevitable happy ending, but recognises how family is for life.
Certainly, a large part of the movie’s charm derives from the chemistry between Suwanmethanont and Sperbund. Both are utter naturals at playing the laid-back slacker and high-strung overachiever respectively, but even more significantly, effortlessly portray the complexities of their relationship with a careful balancing act between tenderness and animosity. It isn’t quite so easy convincing us that they both love and hate each other at the same time, but besides their candid interior monologues, both actors play off each other perfectly and compellingly. Sperbund and Horvejkul’s courtship is a lot more vanilla in comparison, so even though they do have a couple of bumps along the way, there isn’t much the script or the actors do to make their romance quite so memorable. Ultimately, it is the bond between Chut and Jane that is the very emotional core of the film, and it is a joy watching Suwanmethanont and Sperbund spar with each other.
Unlike ‘Bad Genius’, ‘Brother of the Year’ doesn’t have a high-concept premise, but it is also precisely that which makes the back-and-forth between Chut and Jane real and relatable. Even in the first act where it establishes the comedic proportions of their sibling rivalry, the film never resorts to slapstick gags for the sake of it, and is all the better off for demonstrating restraint and avoiding histrionics. Their emotional and psychological tug-of-war also gains meaning, significance and poignancy over the course of the film, and comes off affecting, heart-warming and uplifting by the time it is over. It is no wonder then that the movie has struck a chord among its home audience, and is already the bestselling local movie in Thailand; there is no language or cultural barrier to its themes, story and sentiment, so get ready to laugh, cry and be moved by one of the most endearing films you’ll see this year.
(At first amusing, then sobering, and finally affecting, this ode to the eternal bond between brother and sister is one of the most endearing films you’ll see this year)
Review by Gabriel Chong