Director: Pen-ek Ratanaruang
Cast: Chermarn Boonyasak, David Asavanond, Vithaya Pansringarm
Runtime: 1 hr 48 mins
Rating: R21 (Sexual Scene)
Official Website: http://sgiff.com/browse-all-films/samui-song/
Opening Day: 27 November 2017 (28th Singapore International Film Festival)
Synopsis: Viyada is an actress whose fame is built around playing bitchy sirens in prime-time television. In her personal life, she’s frustrated with having to play the good wife to Jerome, a believer of a bizarre religious cult. One day, she meets Guy, a slick drifter who proposes a radical solution that will free her from the unhappy marriage. The two strangers soon become accomplices in a crime that sets them up against violent, influential men. Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s latest feature sees the Thai director return to his familiar trope – an eccentric crime noir populated by oddball assassins and desperate souls in search of meaning in life. As Viyada (played by Chermarn Boonyasak) plunges deeper into chaos, the film stares straight into the lurid nature of revenge and becomes a study on how women carve out their places in a patriarchal world.
Crime and passion seems to be consistent themes in Thai film director Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s works. In his debut feature film Fun Bar Karaoke (1997), a hitman falls in love with his target’s daughter. The flair for crime comedies continues in Ruang Talok 69 (1999) where a young woman gets into trouble with a motley crew of mobsters. There’s also Last Life in the Universe (2003) which sees a Japanese man fleeing from the yakuza in Thailand, and Invisible Waves (2006) which features a Japanese chef who escapes to Thailandafter committing a murder.
Things are not going to get any simpler in Ratanaruang’s latest film: Viyada (the equally beautiful Chermarn Boonyasak) is a gorgeous soap opera actress who takes things into her own hands when she realises there’s a way to free herself from her pressurising French billionaire husband (visual artist Stéphane Sednaoui). Elsewhere, there is a hitman (a very slick looking David Asavanond) who loves no one more than his ailing mother and a cult leader (veteran actor Vithaya Pansringarm) who isn’t the noble man he seems to be.
Knowing Ratanaruang, who is considered one of the pioneers of Thailand’s New Wave Cinema, knows better than to give his viewers a simple and straightforward story. Expect a fair share of plot twists and turns that may either leave you intellectually stimulated or mentally drained.
You do not know where to devote your emotions on. Should you feel for the long suffering female protagonist, the sexually frustrated foreign husband, the devious religious leader or the cranky assassin? Ratanaruang must have had fun working on this film – watch out for his cameo appearance, as well as a reference to Invisible Waves. Film enthusiasts may be able to spot more of such instances.
Ratanaruang, who studied at the Pratt Institute in New York from 1977 to 1985 seems to have been inspired by classic Alfred Hitchcock titles with his latest entry to an already impressive filmography. There are several visual clues in this 108 minute film that will leave viewers guessing.
The film also makes social commentaries on local issues that may be plaguing the country. On the surface, it may seem like a statement on how women are treated in society, but it is more – organised faith, impotence and the superficial value of consumerism are some of the themes featured as the movie progresses.
Boonyasak carries the film with her portrayal of the conflicted protagonist, Asavanond is believably smooth in scenes where he sweet talks his co star, Sednaoui does a decent job as the seemingly misunderstood husband, while Pansringarm effortlessly plays the role as a cult leader.
The titular Samui Song is a nod to the last segment of the film where things take a strange turn and sets the story on the beautiful island of Koh Samui. How and why does the film take this direction? We won’t spoil the fun for you here: let’s just say viewers have to wait till the last few minutes for the answer.
(Expect twists and turns as the crime thriller leaves you guessing till its last few minutes)
Reviewed by John Li at the 28th Singapore International Film Festival