Familiar story of a lonely man in love with a prostie is given a refreshing retread in “Midnight My Love,” a Thai romancer with the quality of raw silk — smooth but with some impurities. Helmer Kongdej Jaturanrasmee, who scripted current Tony Jaa actioner “Tom Yum Goong,” returns to directing with this beguiling follow-up to his feature bow, “Sayew” (2003). Thai comedian Petchtai Wongamiao, who provided comic relief in “Ong Bak” and starred in “The Bodyguard,” surprises with a touching portrayal of a middle-aged male wallflower. Fests should lap this one up.
Bati (Wongamiao) is a Bangkok cab driver who finds comfort in the melodramatic radio soap operas and Thai pop ballads that accompany him on his lonely night shifts. Luddite Bati — no cell phone, no Internet, not even FM radio — is a figure of scornful amusement among both his fellow cab-drivers and infrequent passengers.
One night, he picks up a fare consisting of four hookers, three of whom tease him unmercifully. But the fourth, Nuan (Waranuch Wongsawad), a low-key beauty sitting quietly in the corner of the crowded backseat, catches Bati’s eye. Soon, Nuan is a regular fare, and the pair starts a chaste romance.
Pic has several comedic inserts which use actual Thai radio plays, parodying Bati’s romantic ideals and mimicking widescreen Thai films of the ’70s. However, the good-natured laffs don’t disrupt the tender atmosphere established by the soothing soundtrack and the gentility of Wongamiao’s perf.
True love is threatened when Nuan’s pimp pushes her toward being a regular moll for a prominent gangster. But Bati still dutifully picks up Nuan every day at midnight. However, when an incident leads to Bati being held by the police for questioning, the relationship hits its first snag as Bati stands her up.
Bati offers Nuan no explanation, and inadvertently pushes his belle closer to the gangster’s attentions. Much heart-wrenching follows, but while the scenario is familiar, it never feels cliched.
Last part of the movie is bumpier, with a sci-fi flavored, 10-minute section that feels like a reel from another film. But, even these hiccups don’t completely derail the sweet atmosphere so well established.
In a role way outside his usual range, Wongamiao is aces as the gentle, romantic cab driver and Thai tube star Wongsawad is both charming and convincing as Nuan. Lensing is a soft-focus dream, marrying the soundtrack music with the pic’s romantic themes. Other tech credits make the grade.
Original title, “Cherm,” means an old-fashioned person.