Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady (Thailand/2004)

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Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady (Thailand/2004)

Postby arsaib4 » Thu Jul 28, 2005 2:13 am

***possible spoilers***

Thai wunderkind Apichatpong Weerasethakul (commonly referred to as "Joe"), who just happens to be one of the most unique and original filmmakers in the world today, recently stated: "In the environment in Thailand, everything is mixed. We absorb everything. When you look at Thai food, or fashion, or architecture, its like we dont have any real identity." Same could be said for his work so farits a mixture of myth and reality, city and country, pop and tradition, personal and mysterious, linear and elliptical one could go on and on. For his latest film, the 2004 Cannes Special Jury prize winning Tropical Malady (Sud Pralat), Joe has borrowed a few elements from two of his key and most acclaimed films so far: Mysterious Objects at Noon (2000) and Blissfully Yours (2002).

Mysterious Objects is often referred to as an "Exquisite Corpse," meaning that its surrealist storytelling technique involves various storylines contributed by many writers while being unaware of what the other has said. Seems like a disaster, right? Not with Joe; so instead, the film is blithely and carelessly capricious. While on the outside, it may seem like Malady doesnt follow the same routine, it constantly shifts identities internally. In Malady, however, Joe is able to stage those shifts while keeping narrative flow: a folk tale about greed is interrupted by a reference to a Thai version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"; a scene in a dilapidated roadside shack is followed by one in a high-tech "western" mall; a statue of Buddha is accompanied by Christmas music; often, scenes from remote countryside are contrasted with ones taking place at either a computer or a vet. lab.

On the other hand, Malady, as a whole, follows the two-part structure of Blissfully Yours. Title credits in both films appear at the midway point (in the new film they also show at the beginning). While in the former, the "blissful" passage takes place at the end, in the latter, its at the start. And that passage in Malady involves two men: a muscular soldier from the city, Keng (Banlop Kamnoi), whos assigned to jungle patrol, and his introverted country boyfriend, Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee), who works at an ice factory. While on holiday, these two lovers spend time together devoid of any worries or caresmovies, dinners (some with Tongs family), games, sightseeing, etc. But we only watch them flirt without going any further. Seemingly, this is the most "commercial" Joe has ever been. Thai critic Kong Rithdee reported that in Thailand audiences went crazy over dialogues such as this: Keng: "When I gave you The Clash cassette, I forgot to give you my heart. You can have it today... Here it is. Do you feel it? TONG: I'm receiving it. I can feel it."

As the second "half" begins after the credit sequence, we find Keng in the middle of the jungle chasing the mysterious creature (a shaman?) which was said to be harming the local livestock. This is the where the film enters its mythical and some might even say spiritual dimension. If the second halfs title, "A Spirit's Path," didnt convince you, then a talking baboon (thankfully subtitled) and an internally lit tree will. You wont see a more ravishing hour of film this yearguaranteed! Joes technical skills (both visual and aural) couldnt be maximized anymore than they are here in the darkest of nights in this dense environment. However, all along you cant help but think, "What is going on?," while you also try to find some sort of a correlation between this and the first half. But after making you follow this imaginative chess match, Joe moves you with a rendering: "I give you my spirit, my flesh, my memories. Every drop of my blood sings our song of happiness. Do you hear it?"

We certainly hear it, and even feel it, but we arent as intellectually involved here as were throughout Blissfully Yours, a better, more important film in general. Although, this is not a done deal. The incomparable Chuck Stephens, whos based in Bangkok, warned us very early on about these shape-shifting films and their filmmakers (the "sat pralats") after basically introducing Joe and the other young Thai master, Pen-Ek-Ratanaruang (Last Life in the Universe [2003]), to the western world. I dont for a moment believe Joe in his soft-spoken manner claiming that this is a simple "storybook" telling. Why? The corpse in the opening sequence (or was it the ending? Did the corpse belong to someone "Blissful"?); the mockish 1000-watt smiles exchanged between various characters; Keng refusing to go through the "hole" on their trip together... and many, many more.

Awareness of political struggle between Thailand and Burma adds another whole dimension to Blissfully Yours, and here, as Joe once reported himself, the Thai government to this day claims that sex is harmful for human beings. Joe has embedded his message so deep that one might practically have to travel deep into the Thai forest to find some answers. So, it turns out that this Malady is Tropical and well have to wait a little while to find a cure.


*TROPICAL MALADY is available in the U.S. on DVD (Strand Releasing).

Re: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady (Thailand/2004)

Postby hengcs » Fri Jul 29, 2005 4:55 pm

Tropical Malady (Sud Pralad) (2004) (Thailand)

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Cast: Banlop Lomnoi, Tong

In Cannes Film Festival 2004, the movie garnered the Prix du Jury
see also

The official website is here

What I like
-- Definitely the second half of the film. In my humble opinion, it saved the entire film! After watching the first half, I was like, okay it was different there were a lot of subtlety and contrasts, but frankly, not every audience would be able to pick up the details. However, after watching the second half, it became apparent what the director was trying to do

I would call it ambitious
To some people, the two stories might appear disjointed (i.e., they appeared like two shorts, a real story and a mythical story)
To some others, the two stories might be tangentially continuous (i.e., the first half about the soldier and his relationship, the second half about the soldiers search for the tiger that killed the livestock)
BUT it could also be the two portrayal of the same story (i.e., both stories are two sides of the same coin)! It succeeded in its metaphoric interpretation

-- In terms of cinematography, two scenes were particularly nice
e.g., the tiger
e.g. the tree with fireflies
-- With regards to casting, I initially didnt think much of it. But in the second story, Banlop Lomnoi managed to carry the segment, it was nearly a one man show. In fact, the second story had no (or minimal) dialogues but it managed to keep the audience interested to know what was happening
-- The message of the film:
What is love and desire?

What I thought could be better
-- The transition between the first and second story was kind of abrupt (as though there was something wrong with the reel )
-- There were quite a number of songs in the film (which may be of relevance). Like many films, the songs were not subtitled ...
-- As I mentioned earlier, the film was ambitious. Not every audience would be able to recognize or appreciate ALL the details within the film (e.g., reality vs dream, life vs death, human vs spirits, east vs west, tradition vs modernization, etc). In fact, some might not even know what the director was driving at

-- I call it a deceptively simple film not a typical film so go watch!
If you do not understand, discuss with someone

Re: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady (Thailand/2004)

Postby A » Mon Aug 01, 2005 10:17 pm

Thanks for your interesting review Arsaib. Now I will definitely go and see this, as it sounds very unique.
Wanted to see blissfully yours for quite a while now, but still unavailable in Germany. maybe at some asian film festival...

Re: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady (Thailand/2004)

Postby A » Wed Nov 30, 2005 9:25 pm

Saw it in Germany, as it is showing in theaters!
At first i didn't like the film too much, but it definitely grew on me. The film dragged on a bit too much imo, as Weerasethakul was repeating himself over and over it seemed. Like he thought the audience is too stupid to get the message, so let's say it again, and again, and again, with pauses to reflect in between. At least this was my impression. Didn't like the cinematography too much, and the soundtrack was at times horrible. The songs weren't subtitled here in Germany, too. The film also relied too much solely on its atmosphere that mostly gripped you, but which became a bit monotonous, especially with the second half.
Overall a definite recommendation, although a bit more consistency on the directorial as well as the technical side would have helped. The acting was very good.

Re: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady (Thailand/2004)

Postby A » Mon May 29, 2006 10:18 pm

Originally posted by Howard Schumann on 5/29/06 10:56 am


Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul(2004)

"Are you and I perchance caught up in a dream from which we have not yet awakened?" - Chuang Tzu

Tropical Malady, the fourth feature by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is a film of astonishing lyric power that explores, in myth and reality, the nature of love. The film is divided between a conventional story of friendship between two men, and a mytho-poetic tale that takes the viewer into the middle of a dense Thai jungle. It is a strange and haunting tone poem that is as multi-layered as the forest in which it is filmed and may require repeated viewing to fully unravel. The opening story is about the tentative, playful relationship between Dong (Sakda Kaewbuadee), a shy young farmer who lives with his parents in the Thai countryside and Keng (Banlop Lomnoi), a soldier on furlough from the Thai army. The relationship has homoerotic undertones but they are suggested rather than openly acknowledged.

Tong is unsophisticated and appears uneasy in the relationship but never loses control, giving their friendship a charm and sweetness rarely depicted on screen, especially between members of the same sex. They go to a movie, participate in an exercise class, take a sick dog to a clinic, and visit an underground temple. Their relationship develops in simple gestures of affection. Keng gives Tong a Clash tape but later tells him that when he gave him the tape that he forgot to give him his heart. He places his hand on Tong's knee but the boy turns it into a mischievous game of squishing his hand with his other leg rather than acknowledging its sensual implications. Keng asks Tong if he can lay in his lap and Tong says "no", then a minute later, he changes that to "no problem". A scene in which Keng mouths Tong's hand after he had urinated and Tong returns the favor with equal passion advances the sexual nature of their relationship but it is not consummated.

As Keng leaves for the country to resume his duties, the screen goes blank and we are transported into a land of myth and time in which a folk tale is being narrated in a jungle setting. Called A Spirit's Path, the mood suddenly changes to dark and foreboding. A narrator tells us that a shaman has transformed himself into a tiger and is terrorizing the countryside that Keng is under orders to protect. The soldier's mission is to subdue the tiger (Tong) and release the spirit of a white cow. The lovers are now the hunter and the hunted. Running through the jungle with tattoos all over his body, Tong is a naked man who can shape-shift into an animal at will. As Keng hunts his elusive prey, he begins to lose his grounding in the normal constructs of reality and the framing of the jungle scenes create an atmosphere of brooding surreal intensity.

Stripped of the pretense we call civilization, on the border between two worlds, Keng's life unfolds in a desperate vision, suggesting that we are the both the dreamer and that which is being dreamt. He talks to animals, sees ghosts, and receives advice from a baboon who tells him The tiger trails you like a shadow. He is lonesome. Kill him to free him from his world, or let him devour you to enter his world. As the tiger perches on the branch of a tree staring at him, Keng knows that in order to save his life, he must be willing to sacrifice it. "I give you my spirit, my flesh, and my memories", he tells the tiger, and "Every drop of my blood sings our song A song of happiness. There do you hear it? Beyond the shadow of illusion, Tropical Malady forces us to see in the dark. What begins with a wan smile ends in a fever of ecstasy.


Re: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady (Thailand/2004)

Postby A » Mon May 29, 2006 10:24 pm

Ah, I'd like to revisit this, as I probably haven't done it proper justice the first time around. Most of the hypnotic images still linger completely unharmed in my mind, so I can luckily play it over and over again, whenever I want.
Feeling lovesick myself, i especially love the end were he kneels before the tiger to be devoured.

A propos Weerasethakul,... his Blissfully yours will be shown on french/german TV channel ARTE soon, and I was wondering if any of you (welsh guys? ) could give me some info on the pal running time. I guess imdb lists the american...
I hope it's uncut.

Re: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady (Thailand/2004)

Postby arsaib4 » Mon May 29, 2006 10:51 pm

I'd be interested in your reaction to Blissfully Yours. Me and Trevor talked about its U.K DVD release recently; hopefully he'll also get a chance to watch it. Btw, the PAL running-time is 122 mins.

Re: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady (Thailand/2004)

Postby hengcs » Mon May 29, 2006 11:12 pm

Abt 2 or 3 mths ago, one of the cinemas here had a film festival which featured past works by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. So, I got to watch Blissfully Yours on a BIG screen ...

Anyway, I did not read any synopsis prior to it ...

Hmmm ... I will write more abt it if i had the time ...

Re: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady (Thailand/2004)

Postby A » Mon May 29, 2006 11:20 pm

Maybe you could open a thread on it hengcs, and be the first with a review?
I followed arsaib's and Trevor's conversation about the UK release quite closely.
Thanks for the info! Will check, but I think 122 minutes it was... Whohoa! It's actually listed as 124 minutes! I guess that means it's uncut.
Now, let's cross fingers that I'll be at home, or at least be able to persuade someone to record it for me.

If I remember correctly arsaib mentioned "Blissfully yours" as Weerasethakul's masterpiece, so I hope for a rave review.

On a side-note, I'm just listening to some great gypsy-influenced music from Djordje Balasevic. This guy is terrific, and I love the gypsies. But enough ass-licking

Re: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady (Thailand/2004)

Postby hengcs » Fri Jun 02, 2006 1:52 am

Quote A, "If I remember correctly arsaib mentioned "Blissfully yours" as Weerasethakul's masterpiece, so I hope for a rave review."

then it is better he wrote the review ...
cos I am not overwhelmed by it ...
hiaks hiaks

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