Director: Chayanop Boonprakob
Cast: Naphat Siangsomboon, Pimchanok Luevisadpaibul, Jason Young
Runtime: 1 hr 59 mins
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 4 April 2019
Synopsis: In this world, there are many people who seem to be wandering along a relationship borderlining ‘friends’ and ‘lovers’. This borderline is also commonly known as the FRIEND ZONE. It is a special area for those who are stuck in the middle where they cannot really stay friends with their close friends, nor move forward to be their friends’ lovers. Palm (Naphat Siangsomboon) is one of those who has been stuck in the friend zone with his best friend, Gink (Pimchanok Luevisadpaibul), for 10 years. During high school, he tried to cross the line by confessing his feelings for her. But Gink simply rejected him, saying that “being friends is good enough.” Since then, Palm and Gink have grown closer as true best friends. Every time Palm breaks up with any of his countless girlfriends, Gink will tell him off, talking some sense into him. And every time Gink fights with her boyfriend, no matter where she happens to be in Myanmar, Malaysia, or Hong Kong. All she has to do is make a call to Palm, who uses his perks as a flight attendant to catch flights to be with her. Perhaps, it is because of his excessive kindness that also makes Gink has a problem with Ted (Jason Young) her boyfriend. One day, Gink asks Palm out of the blue, “have you wondered… what if we were an item?” Right then, sparks fly wildly inside Palm’s mind, knowing that this might be the only chance for him to cross the borderline. Although, Palm has no way of knowing if leaving the FRIEND ZONE this time will lead him to the beginning of his romantic love life or to the end of his friendship with Gink for good.
Can a girl be best friends with a guy, and vice versa? Seeing how often that question is asked and debated, it is a wonder that there aren’t more rom-coms about such relationships. And yet how befitting it is that GDH, the studio behind crowd-pleasers as ‘One Day’, ‘A Gift’ and ‘Brother of the Year’, would turn that very subject into the premise for their latest movie, an altogether amusing, delightful and winning confectionery whose sheer charms make up for its lack of depth.
The couple in question here is Palm (Naphat Siangsomboon) and Gink (Pimchanok Luevisadpaibul), who have been stuck in ‘friend zone’ since their high school days. An inventive though slightly far-fetched sequence at the start shows the lengths to which Palm would go to for Gink, not only borrowing his family’s car so that they can commit truancy to check if Gink’s father was indeed having an affair, but also accompanying her all the way by flight to and from Chiang Mai. Just from how they react to news that the other has found a boyfriend/ girlfriend is proof to us that both Palm and Gink already had feelings for each other way back then in 2007, even if they refuse to acknowledge that simple fact.
The years between 2007 and 2017 are covered in a montage which shows how readily Palm is willing to come to Gink’s aid, whether is it for a listening ear or a helping hand, and how being so close to another girl ultimately dooms his relationship after relationship. On the other hand, it is not until 2016 that Gink would discover that her boyfriend of many years from high school was cheating on her, whereupon Palm would once again become a shoulder for her to lean on. Yet that occasion would once again reinforce why Palm had never dared to confess how he felt about Gink to her. What if she didn’t feel the same way? What if being honest only made things awkward between the both of them? What if it meant possibly losing even their close friendship?
With that context, the movie brings us to present day, which finds Gink in a new relationship with singer-songwriter Ted (Jason Young) whom she is also manager to. While holidaying with his current girlfriend in Myanmar, Gink receives an unexpected cry for emotional support from Palm, who happens to have fractured her leg and is cooped up in a hotel room in Malaysia. As you may expect, Palm immediately rushes to Kuala Lumpur to be next to Gink, and ends up accompanying her for an extended period of time while Ted flies off to several neighbouring countries (including Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia and Hong Kong) on a recording project for King Power.
That project sees Ted working with young female singers from these countries on the same ditty, and Ted’s friendliness with these attractive celebrities has Gink’s head in a spin. In part, Gink’s previous relationship fuels her current insecurity over Ted’s fidelity, so much so that she pulls Palm along to retrace Ted’s footsteps in Malaysia and follow Ted to Hong Kong without his knowledge, in order to check if he is cheating on her. In particular, the latter voyage will have Gink catching Ted lying to her, and concluding therefore that Ted has indeed been unfaithful. So begins an impromptu escapade to Krabi, where after some hiking and a hilarious encounter with an alpha monkey (that you see in the trailer), both Palm and Gink will be forced to confront the truth that they have had feelings for each other all along.
Will they or won’t they end up being a couple? The last half hour sees director and co-writer Chayanop ‘Mu’ Boonprakob inject some depth into the story that is otherwise conspicuously absent before. Oh yes, it is only quite late into the movie that the narrative settles into a more consequential exploration of the implications of such relationships. How far will each party go for the other, before the one who has feelings finds himself or herself giving disproportionately for the other? To what extent will the other take the former for granted? What happens if the former is honest and realises that his or her feelings are one-sided? Or if in fact the feelings are mutual, will both parties be willing to take the leap of faith, knowing that being a couple inadvertently imposes expectations on what was otherwise a relationship with no obligations?
Unsurprisingly, seeing as how late Palm and Gink come to grips with these dilemmas in their relationship, the movie doesn’t give more than superficial treatment to each of them; instead, for a significant part of the film, Boonprakob and his co-writers seem content to entertain their audience with a string of physical gags. There is nothing wrong with that per se, not least because most of these gags are staged with impeccable comic timing and performed with screwball flair by Siangsomboon and Luevisadpaibul. But equally, those expecting a more textured portrayal of such titular relationships will probably come off disappointed, especially since much of the time we see Palm and Gink onscreen is actually of them goofing around.
Indeed, we’d admit that we were hoping for more between Palm and Gink before that inevitable happily-ever-after, which is also supposedly meant as encouragement for those who find themselves trapped in similar circumstances; and yet, as we said earlier, there’s no denying that you’ll still find this an utterly charming affair from start to finish. Thanks to the infectious chemistry between our two lead stars, you’ll find yourself almost effortlessly rooting for Palm and Gink, and probably cheer when the movie finally rewards your patience with a endearing finish. This is a crowd-pleaser all right, much like GDH’s previous hits, and as long as you don’t expect more, ‘Friend Zone’ will definitely have you feeling in the zone.
(A crowd-pleaser through and through, 'Friend Zone' trades depth for easy laughs, and coasts agreeably on its stars' effortless charms)
Review by Gabriel Chong