SAMUI SONG

★★★

A TWISTY, NOIR-ISH EXPLORATION OF FEMALE IDENTITY IN THAILAND

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Jake Watt
13th June 2018

‘Samui Song’ follows Viyada (Chermarn “Ploy” Boonyasak), an actress from TV soap opera who is known for playing bitchy characters. She is married to a wealthy Frenchman, Jerome (Stephane Sednaoui), who is a devoted follower of Buddhakaya, a strange cult led by “The Holy One” (Vithaya Pansringarm, ‘Only God Kills’).

Viyada feels both oppressed and dominated by her husband, who would like her to join the sect and even hopes to offer her up sexually to his charismatic leader in a sacrificial act. Understandably, she is freaked out. She hires Guy Spencer (David Asavanond), a slick drifter she met by chance at a hospital (he has a sick mother) to kill him.

Of course, nothing goes right for anyone in this situation, and even the hired killer lands himself in all sorts of unwanted trouble. The film centres on the imperfect crime - imagine Hitchcock with shades of ‘Double Indemnity’ and ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’, and a mix of drama, giallo and noir.

'SAMUI SONG' TRAILER

Just as things are heating up, the film suddenly gives a nod to Luis Buñuel and makes an abrupt detour to the eponymous resort island of Koh Samui, where a single mother (Palika Suwannarak) of a young boy lives with her female lover. A picture-perfect oasis promising a new way of life, in which love, harmony and simplicity reign supreme, it is here that Viyada undergoes a transformation both cinematic and metaphysical.

According to writer/director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (‘Ploy’, ‘Invisible Waves’): "The idea for the film came to me when I spotted a well-known Thai actress and her foreign husband or boyfriend in a supermarket. They looked nice together so I followed them around. I was curious because she spoke to him in Thai and he spoke to her in English but they could understand each other. That stayed in my mind and gave birth to ‘Samui Song’."

The film’s plot twists and turns as it explores the meaning of identity - particularly for women in Thai society and how difficult it is for a woman to show her real self, rather than play the role that is expected of her. Masculinity is tackled too, with the sexually impotent Jerome obsessed with making clay phalluses in his workshop (leading to the most memorable sculpture-related mishap outside of ‘A Clockwork Orange’).

‘Samui Song’ is handsomely filmed and features fine performances from a well-selected cast, even though the characters aren’t given much obvious psychological depth by the script, and their motives remain fairly straightforward.

The film also explores the paradoxes of human nature. For instance, the hitman is shown taking care of his ailing mother with such tenderness that we’re stumped as to how the same hands could take a life so violently just moments ago.

‘Samui Song’ is handsomely filmed and features fine performances from a well-selected cast, even though the characters aren’t given much obvious psychological depth by the script, and their motives remain fairly straightforward.

It’s worth noting that the several twists in the film are truly mind-boggling, and Ratanaruang lets the audience come up with their own interpretation of what is happening on the big screen. The film’s plot becomes increasingly complex, resulting in meta-cinematic shots and identity changes, which help to blur the lines between reality and fiction and also confuse the viewer somewhat along the way.

If you’re seeking an easily watchable film with a conventional, digestible story-line and a clear cut conclusion, this is definitely not the film for you. If you’re after a film that will leave you pondering its meaning and scratching your head vigorously as you walk out of the cinema, ‘Samui Song’ is worth checking out.

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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