Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) movie poster

director Apichatpong Weerasethakul
viewed: 01/03/2012

Winner of the Palme D’Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was somewhat of a surprise.  Writer/director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film is a mixture of realism and fantasy, or at least of some traditional Thai spiritual beliefs.  Based on a loosely on a book about a man who claimed to really be able to recall his past lives, the story is really a meditation on life, spiritual belief, death, and in some other ways, Thai cinema.

Clearly, it’s not a film made for just everybody.  In fact, Weerasethakul wasn’t even sure if his film would even be released in his native Thailand.  I’d never seen any of his films before, though I’d heard of Tropical Malady (2004).  While I wasn’t sure what I would think, I was intrigued.

The film is loaded with haunting imagery, evocative moments, and even some banal realism.  The actors are not necessarily professional, which adds to the realistic quality but also stilts some of the moments of out-and-out weirdness.

Uncle Boonmee opens with a particularly strange scene of a cow, tied to a tree, who loosens itself and then wanders into the jungle.  When the cow’s owner comes to retrieve it, a shadowy figure with red glowing eyes appears in the darkness without explanation.

Uncle Boonmee is dying from kidney failure.  He lives on a farm in the jungle and is visited by his ex-sister-in-law.  Soon he is also visited by the ghost of his dead wife and the form of his lost son, who disappeared into the jungle to become a monkey ghost (turns out he’s the furry thing with glowing red eyes).  All of this weirdness is taken in relative stride, living amid a reality that allows for such things.

The film shifts in its slow-going pace from moments of strangeness and weird beauty to lingering moments of dull everyday reality, normal conversation that transcends into discussion of life and beyond.  And then there is a sequence of a disfigured princess who has a sexual encounter with a catfish.

I’m not entirely sure what I think in the end.  Is it brilliant?  Is it naff?  Is it sublime?  I’m not sure.  I feel somewhat haunted by aspects of the film, moments, scenes, images.  But I wasn’t overwhelmed and invested to the level in which I would say that this film was indeed some tremendous feat of cinema.  I’m still a bit at odds with it.  But it is something strange and at times beautiful, at times a deeper, more audacious cinematic effort than most other films.  It lingers.  But does it stay?  We will see.

Bangkok Dangerous

Bangkok Dangerous (1999) movie poster
(1999) dir. Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang
viewed: 07/09/07

I’d actually rented this movie five years ago but it wouldn’t play in my DVD player at the time.  I queued it up, and a few DVD players later, I rented it again, particularly after noticing that there is going to be some Hollywood remake of it with Nicolas Cage coming out later this year.  I’d seen The Eye (2002) by the “Pang Brothers” as they are actually listed in the film credits, and it was a decent little flick.  Apparently it’s made several sequels and even a Hollywood remake, too, which is also due out this year.  These guys are cashing in.

Bangkok Dangerous is a stylish story of a deaf-mute hit-man, Kong, his hits, his friends, and his love affair with a beautiful pharmacy clerk.  There is a lot going on with sound and color, playing out Kong’s isolation from the world, from feeling, a benumbed almost surreal life that is only jarred into comprehension of the world by his interaction with Kon, the pretty clerk.  She witnesses his violence and is repulsed by it and as things fall apart, he understands the badness of his life and what he has wrought.

Kong is a very sympathetic character, and while this story can sound pretty unimaginative in some ways, it is actually executed with style and a unique tone, created by the visual treatments and approach.  There is something unique here.  It’s a good film, not a great film, but certainly better than a whole lot of stuff out there.

We’ll see how they integrate into Hollywood.