A college teen moonlighting as a porn magazine writer finds herself pulled every which way by hormones and ambition in “Sayew,” an engaging, gentle comedy about finding one’s own path in life. Substantially different from the usual flashy Thai pics about disaffected youth, and grounded by a wonderfully understated perf by lead actress Pimpaporn Leenutapong, this has a modest shot at some specialized business beyond the fest circuit in the hands of a dedicated distrib.
Film was released locally in late February. Story is set in Bangkok in 1992, a time of considerable political turmoil, which parallels the life of Tao Wikanda (Leenutapong), a girl from Sukhothai province who’s moved south for her university studies. Staying with her aunt, who runs a small eatery in their apartment block, Tao makes some money on the side, and indulges her literary aspirations, by writing steamy stories for sex mag Sayew (literally, “Tickle”).
Unfortunately, Tao, who’s studying Thai literature and wants to be a serious writer, isn’t coming up with the hardcore goods desired by her editor, Hia Kung Fu (Niruth Vijitwongjareon), who’s also her uncle. Hia urges her to spice up her stuff with more explicit sex, like the mag’s star writer, Young Stallion (Anon Saisangchan). However, frumpy Tao, with her wire-rimmed glasses and unglamorous page-boy haircut, is a tad confused. Still a virgin, and subject to strange hot flashes whenever she sees dumb college beauty Mui (Pinsuda Tanpairoh), she’s far happier writing fanciful love stories involving two women. Nevertheless, with the help of an equally virginal male friend, Jon (Nuntawat Arairapojchanakul), and a porno tape stolen from Young Stallion, she sets out on a voyage of self-discovery. Largely thanks to splendid playing by Leenutapong as the nerdy Tao, whose eyebrows are perpetually arched in an expression of shock at the real world, pic’s low-key comedy is sustained throughout the first hour without any recourse to raucous shenanigans or hectic pacing. First-time writer-directors Kongdej Jaturanrasmee and Kiat Sansananduna show a good eye for composition, and their slow-but-sure approach pays dividends in a gentle, scene later on in which Tao ends up in Young Stallion’s apartment.
Pic also doesn’t become sidetracked into Tao’s incipient lesbian urges, which, at the end of the day, are no more than schoolgirl fantasies. Despite a rather conventional postscript set in 2002, script sticks to its main theme, which is about a young woman who — in the broadest sense — wants to do something different with her life, but hasn’t a clue as to what that is or how to achieve it. Running time is slightly on the long side, but technically pic is smooth at all levels.