"An earlier reviewer mentioned that the DVD is a double bill and didn't enjoy the second feature. That was the same mistake I made when watching this film. I thought it was 2 films and actually turned it off, disappointed. Some time later I turned it on again, willing to give it a second chance. Well, to my surprise it wasn't a double bill and the second half is actually better when you understand what's going on. I saw this movie months ago but for some reason it's stayed with me. It's good if you give it a chance and I think the final scene is beautiful and tragic and the same time. See it as a statement of the sacrifices we make for true love. One man wants to be with another, no matter the cost. and another man (the object of his affections) seeks freedom from a living nightmare. In order for either of these goals to be reached one man must be killed by the other. the standoff in the final scene is hauntingly beautiful and stays with you. at least it did with me."
Delicate and sensual (but enigmatic) love story that hints a
Nathan Andersen | Florida | 05/16/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Tropical Malady is an enigmatic and subtle film that is on one level a simple story of a budding romance between two young men, and on another level takes on mythic dimensions in its exploration of the nature of desire and the relation between the human and the animal. As described on the back of the dvd, the story is fairly straightforward: a soldier out on a mission meets a young man on a farm, when they meet again in the city they begin a friendship that blossoms into romance, and then, just as they admit that their feelings for each other are mutual the young man goes missing. Hearing rumors that the young man has been transformed into a tiger, in an apparent repetition of legend, the soldier goes off alone into the jungle to search for him.
As a matter of fact, the story is not so straightforward -- and it is not at all clear watching the film that the second part in which the soldier searches for a tiger/man is a continuation of the first part in which the same actors begin to fall in love and finally acknowledge their passion for each other. In other films by the same director, Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, he displays an interest in the idea of telling the same story twice or multiple times with significant variation, whether with different characters or during a different time. I think it more likely that is what is going on here -- so the question the film poses is how are these two stories connected? An obvious clue is placed at the beginning of the film in the form of a quotation -- that states we are all wild animals who act on instinct and to become human we must learn how to train that animal inside and teach it to act in ways it would not in the wild. What I find interesting about the connection between the first and the second parts of the film is that in the first the soldier is clearly dominant, flirting heavily with the young man who is shown to be somewhat ambivalent about the direction their friendship is heading. In the second the soldier is hunting the young man who is a tiger but in this case the tiger/man seems to have the upper hand. While this connection raises a lot of questions it suggests clearly that the director is working through ideas in this film.
But what really makes the ideas in Weerasethakul's films worth exploring is the intrigue that develops with his style. Among those critics who have been taken with his work (myself included) descriptions of his style characterize it again and again as lavish, poetic, sensual, rich, exotic, stunning, ravishing. There is something to this: there is an innocence in his eye, a freshness in his vision, that makes it feel as if he is doing something very different with his camera than what we are used to. Of course the same thing might be (and has been) described as obtuseness or ineptitude -- but I think that what accounts for that is that he refuses to depict things in a linear fashion (and that is what is misleading about the linear description of the plot on the dvd case). He almost completely avoids what has been called "continuity editing" -- cutting from one shot to the next at just the moment when the audience is ready to see what comes next, or when a movement will distract them from the jump in camera position, in order to give the illusion of separate shots blending into one continuous sequence. For the most part, his shots are longish shots that are designed to stand on their own and are lain out in sequence to give a sense of complete moments that resonate with one another but don't give a clear sense of an ongoing action in a relatively seamless space and time. That can be uncomfortable and may appear a sign of incompetence, but I don't think it is. Many or even most of the shots do stand on their own as very sensual and fresh, having a vitality that is not quelled because we are being informed about what specifically we are to see in them and abstract from them as the relevant bit of information. At the same time most of the shots seems to remind of or prepare the way for the other shots. The past is never quite over and the present shot always anticipates or resonates in future shots; events repeat or seem to repeat with subtle variations so that they blend together.
The one technique he uses repeatedly in this film that matches with "standard" editing technique is the reaction shot: the shot of someone looking at someone else who is looking back at them. There are several sequences in which this kind of shot is central and they are very intriguing. A group of soldiers sit around dinner with a farmer family, and the mother looks on at the looks that the soldiers give each other and the looks between a soldier and her daughter and a soldier and her son. Her looks tell us a great deal about how she thinks about the various flirtations. What is interesting is that she doesn't judge -- but she knows what is at stake and worries a bit. There is another related sequence in which we see the young man on the bus looking back and forth at a young woman -- what struck me was the distinct possibility that the young woman had been filmed spontaneously on the bus, documentary style, and that her apparently "flirtatious" reactions were responses to being filmed on a bus. There is a documentary/realist strand that runs throughout this film and all of Weerasethakul's work -- that may account for part of the freshness and vitality that appears. His work will never be mainstream and is not for all audiences but for those who delight in alternative approaches to telling stories and who long to feel something beyond the kind of numb excitement that comes from being on a roller coaster ride, there is definitely something here worth exploring."
Oft-Brilliant Mix Of Magic Realism, Poetic Imagery, Folk and
David Alston | Chapel Hill, NC, USA | 10/01/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Apichatpong 'Joe' Weerasethakul is emerging as one of the more fascinating figures in global cinema, with a pair of recogs from Cannes to his credit in a 5-feature career (only 2 of which have gained a release in the US, unfortunately).
Critics and audiences alike seem to find his work to be head-scratchingly odd; his playful willingness to tinker incessantly with the cliches and conventions of mainstream, indie and "art-house" cinema does tend to implode any sense of expectation. Instead, you just have to let go, and sink into the rather magic-realist world that he creates, or you will be driven to distraction.
For all of his willingness to experiment, Weerasethakul is quite down to earth in many ways - if he has very high expectations of his audience, he also seems to feel that creative filmmaking need not seem cold or confrontational; and his 'experiments' are lent life by their great affection for Thailand, and their easy comfort with folklore and dream-states.
In TROPICAL MALADY, he crafts something of a love story - not in any kind of literal sense, but rather in the form of two symbolically interrelated fables (BLISSFULLY YOURS, Weerasethakul's previous film, is similarly constructed) that exist very much in the land of folktales, ghost stories, subsonscious or spiritual dreams, and unconscious drives and impulses. The first half of the film - set in urban or small-town environments - depicts an idyllic, chaste romance between two men - one from the countryside, the other a soldier. The overall mood mixes graceful formality, and a hazy blissed-out romanticism; as with BLISSFULLY YOURS and MYSTERIOUS OBJECT AT NOON, credits appear far into the film, offering the impression that one is viewing the interrelated excerpts of intricate larger narratives, rather than a conventional 'story' film with a neat beginning, middle and end.
The second part of the film shifts to dense jungle, and illustrates a legend involving shape-shifting shamanistic figues in the Thai countryside, integrating characters from the first half. Some rather mystical questions are situated underneath it all - the nature of love and connection to one's companions, the meanings of connection, the influence of the subconscious in our lives and relationships, etc... The cinematography here is somewhat marred by a tight budget that does little justice to the jungle setting; otherwise this is an expansive and poetic dive into the inner aspects of the courtship presented in part one of the film, with intertitles (in the style of silent film - something that this film in many formal ways is a very modern descendant of) illustrating bits of Thai folklore and mythology.
As with MYSTERIOUS OBJECT, this is an oft-brilliant, if not entirely perfect film, with a great sense of creative adventure, a willingness to undertake some aggressive structural experiments, and a warm - if very idealized - humanism holding it all together. In it's non-narrative nature, it's perhaps not for everyone - this is an incoherent film, though incoherent in the way of dreams, and - as with MYSTERIOUS OBJECT - strict coherence is utterly not the point here.
Challenging and fascinating film
Roland E. Zwick | Valencia, Ca USA | 08/03/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Tropical Malady" is a lush, beautifully directed love story from Thailand that uses magic realism to spin a tale derived from Eastern folk wisdom. The first half of the film is relatively straightforward and rooted in reality, as a soldier stationed in the jungle goes on leave to a bustling city and falls in love with a young man who lives and works there. The growing attachment between the two men is chronicled with so much subtlety that it takes us quite awhile to realize that there is anything of that nature between them. Then suddenly one night, after a particularly tender moment between the two lovers, Tong walks away into the darkness of an open road, while Keng returns to his post in the jungle. When news begins to spread in the nearby village that livestock have been found dead and some humans have also gone missing, Keng heads out into the forest alone to investigate the claims. And this is where the film REALLY turns strange, for Keng soon discovers that some sort of beast may be hiding out there, devouring both animals and people, and that - get this - that beast may actually be Tong, the love of his life. This second - and, for me, slightly less interesting - half of the film is a largely wordless journey into the filmmakers' own heart of darkness.
I won't try and pretend to grasp all the mystical concepts writer/director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is batting around in this film. The quotes he provides for us, drawn from famous Thai folk tales, are of some help, but much of the theme of the film remains obscure and murky for Western minds not accustomed to thinking in such pantheistic terms of the world around us. Nevertheless, the film still connects with us Occidental types, possibly because it explores that universal belief all humans seem to share - undoubtedly implanted onto our DNA way back in our primeval days - of a so-called enchanted forest, a place where evil in a monstrous form may be lurking beneath the dark underbrush ready to jump out and devour us at any unguarded moment. It shows up in many of our fairy tales, of course, and, most recently, in films such as "The Blair Witch Project," "The Village," "The Two Towers" and "The Brothers Grimm" to name a few. Yet, "Tropical Malady" also brings a romantic tenor to the subject as it implies that the love between the two men has somehow moved into a more meaningful and primal stage, one bereft of the constricting and deadening rituals placed upon it by a civilized world (my suspicion is that is why the filmmakers chose to make this a love story between two men rather than one between a man and a woman, though, frankly, the Thai society we see doesn't seem to be particularly condemning or homophobic in its response to the lads).
Even if every single moment is not comprehensible to us, this is still a wonderful film to watch, primarily because Weerasethakul brings such a lyrical, impressionistic style to his direction. He fills literally every frame with fascinating details of the setting and landscape - be it the lush vegetation of an overgrown steamy rainforest or the neon-lit vibrancy of a crowded urban shopping mall. His soundtrack is also a major player in the film, particularly in the jungle scenes where the natural - and not so natural - sounds become an intricate part of the mood and drama.
And "mood" is definitely the operative word here, for "Tropical Malady" is far more a film of feelings and sensations than of conventional narrative. The lovely performances by Banlop Lomnoi and Sakda Kaewbaudee, as the two men drawn into this surrealistic drama, help to ground the film enough in reality so that we go along with it even when we don't always understand it. A feast for the eyes and ears, "Tropical Malady" is a hypnotic, spellbinding film that washes over you and carries you to a world singularly its own. Take the journey."
A different side of oppinion
FSOL | Ann Arbor, CA USA | 09/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sud Pralad (literally means Monster in Thai) or the English title: "Tropical Malady", is one of the most recent ground-breaking films. For those who does not appreciate the 'abstractness' in a film would surely find this movie unsatisfying. The film can clearly be deconstructed into two major parts. Part one seems to be about a conservative romance played out by two gay men. One is a soldier and the other an ice-factory worker. The first part is light-heartening, with a dash of mystery in the 'poison cave' scene. The first part of the film sets in a rustic, beautiful country side in Thailand. There is a shot of the ice worker riding on a back of a truck, overlooking the trace of shrouding dust of the dusty roads. The first part is quite slow-paced (although one could argue that the second part is even slower), and shots tend to 'observe' on every miniscule details (such as passive hand movements, longing eye contacts, etc.) The second part is a tale about a Thai folklore about a Mon shapeshifter. The soldier from the first part is now in a dense tropical forest, trying to search for the unknown being existing in the forest. The connection between the first part and the second part is quite arbitrary. The actor who plays the ice worker in the first part seems to be playing the shapeshifter in the second part. We don't whether the director, Apichatpong, intends to signify the characters from the first part as same characters in the second part of not (that is, to say, the soldier could be the exact same character from part 1 or he could be a total different character). Most audience would assume that the soldier in part 2 is the same person as in part 1, and that somehow his gay lover turns out to be the shapeshifter. The unconnectedness between part 1 and part 2 is arguably the reason why so many people find Tropical Malady hard to digest, or worst, branding it a bad film. Looking from a classical Hollywood point of view, Tropical Malady offers very little storyline or any sense. This can be interpreted as both bad and good. Bad in a sense that the people who expect a conflict/progress/resolution kind of movie would not like the film. Good in a sense that it evokes many criticisms, it has a very unique style, therefore it can be discussed with different theories, and can be put on film studies. I give it a 5 stars because: 1) It pushes the boundary of Thai films. There are lots of creative Thai films out there, but none of them can go so extreme and still able to recieve such recognition from foreign critics (i.e. in Cannes). 2) I appreciate abstractness of any kind. 3) I find the visual and sound design very interesting.
For those who wants to enjoy a deigetic context in a movie, Tropical Malady is not for you. But one day when you start to appreciate 'avant-gard' films or even David Lynch film, you might enjoy Tropical Malady purely for the ideas you get from watching it."