B&W, 2000, 89m.
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Starring Somsri Pinyopol, Duangjai Hiransri, Kannikar Narong, Chakree Duangklao, To Hanudomlap
Second Run (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Plexifilm (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) WS (1.66:1)
B&W, 2000, 89m.
This challenging and infinitely rewarding Thai film offers a unique take on the concept of storytelling, delivered in a way that only cinema can. Imagine sort of a cross between Slacker, The Saragossa Manuscript, and The Act of Killing, and you’re on the right track.
The basic idea of this feature is usually cited as the filmic equivalent of the old surrealist “exquisite corpse” game, with a portion of a story or drawing handed off for someone else to continue. The end result is always surprising and often beautifully compelling, and that’s certainly the result here as we start off with a camera-equipped car cruising through Bangkok to kick off a true(?) story about a home teacher, a disabled student, and a magical boy. From there as the landscape shifts to the countryside, the interviewees add more jolting and autobiographical elements to the evolving tale, which is occasionally acted out on screen or referenced with stock footage to give some kind of context for the viewer.
Shot over a period of three years with rotating crew members, this was the first feature film for director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose blurring of narrative and documentary conventions has been more or less a constant in his work. He went on to such films as Tropical Malady and Mekong Hotel, with Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives representing one of his best to date, and this one certainly makes for one impressive calling card. The catalog of personalities on display is great, including one section in sign language, a group of unrehearsed schoolchildren fighting for attention with a boom mic, and plenty more.
Unfortunately this hasn’t been the most impeccably curated film in history, with the original 16mm negative gone and a restoration effort undertaken by the Austrian Film Museum and Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation. The best surviving element has burned-in English subtitles, so that’s what you get on the 2016 Blu-ray release from Second Run, which is still a massive leap forward over the really dreary, non-anamorphic American DVD from Plexfilm. It’s a very gritty-looking film with loads of grain and high contrast, but this is likely the best it will ever be given its current state. Audio is offered in a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix or an LPCM 2.0 stereo one, with the former getting the edge in the opening third or so with a more spacious and active soundscape for city sounds. Also included to give you the rundown on the film’s presentation is a 7-minute restoration featurette, but that’s just the beginning. Weerasethakul is represented with a new 26-minute interview about how the film came together (why it was shot in monochrome, his museum discovery of the exquisite corpse idea, and so on), and a 2007 short film, “Nimit” ("Meteorites") (15 mins.), an impressionistic, handhedl look at... well, it's hard to say, but it's essentially a day in the life of some suburban Thai children with a morning at the beach and then an afternoon at school. Tony Ryans provides the usual excellent liner notes for the booklet; it's definitely handy reading either before or after watching the film itself.