Appealing Thai dramedy "Best of Times" shows that love can be wonderful and painful at any age.

Appealing Thai dramedy “Best of Times” shows that love can be wonderful and painful at any age. Smoothly commingling the tale of two oldsters looking for a final shot at happiness and a furtive romance between twentysomethings, the pic has a truth and warmth that speak all languages. Helmed by hitmaker Yongyooth Thongkongtoon (“Iron Ladies”), “Times” grossed a strong $1.4 million in Bangkok on midyear release and is Thailand’s foreign-language Oscar entrant. Set for early 2010 release in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, the crowdpleaser should clock many more fest miles and will score with specialized broadcasters.

Pic reps a rise in class for Thongkongtoon following a string of rambunctious laffers including “Maid,” “Metrosexual” and “Iron Ladies 2.” Confidently handling intimate drama and guiding the character-based comedy with a gentle touch befitting the occasion, the helmer presents his most mature and satisfying work to date.

A sensitive and slightly nerdy young veterinarian, Keng (Arak Amornsupasiri) has never mustered the courage to declare his love for Fai (Yarinda Bunnag), an environmentalist and animal-rights advocate he’s adored since their high school days. The big fly in Keng’s ointment has always been his best friend, Ohm (James Alexander Mackie), who married Fai before his philandering prompted their divorce.

Following a rowdy school reunion, the buddies are arrested for drunk driving. Keng is sentenced to community service, teaching computer basics to a class of sprightly seniors. Amusingly, several gray-hairs prove more cyber-savvy than Keng.

Keng is asked for help by Jamrat (Krissana Sreadthatamrong), a lonely farmer with his eye on Sompit (Sansanee Watananukul), who’s about to relocate to the U.S. with her children. In a charming modern twist on the “Cyrano de Bergerac” proxy principle, Keng composes live computer chat messages for Jamrat, which hit the spot when read by Sompit.

Capturing all the excitement and sheer panic of trying to find the right time to say the right things about matters of the heart, the screenplay slowly reverses the teacher-student roles. Listening and learning while Jamrat talks about his love for Sompit, Keng finds the strength to approach Fai. Anchored by the lovely friendship between the two men, the action glides effortlessly from Keng’s stumbling progress to Sompit’s dilemma of whether to stay with Jamrat or leave Thailand, probably forever.

Though later segs transporting the central quartet to Jamrat’s durian farm are beautiful to look at, the journey to the bittersweet conclusion feels a bit drawn-out.

Perfs are tops, and all the more impressive for the fact that among the main players, only Amornsupasiri has any substantial acting experience. Pop singer (and qualified architect) Bunnag is a delight as the optimistic Fai, while mature-age discoveries Sreadthatamrong and Watananukul, who have some voiceover work and a few TV commercials between them, are terrific as the oldies whose spirits burn brighter each moment they’re together.

Visuals are a major cut above the rough-and-ready look of Thongkongtoon’s previous comedies. Clean and attractive lensing, tasteful production design and Therdsak Chanpan’s discreetly applied piano score are among the many pluses of a thoroughly pro tech package.

Best of Times

Thailand

Production

A GMM Tai Hub Co. release of a GMM Tai Hub Co. and Jorkwang Film production. (International sales: GMM Tai Hub, Bangkok.) Produced by Yongyooth Thongkongtoon, Chenchonnee Soonthornsaratul, Suvimon Techasupinun. Executive producers, Paiboon Damrongchaitham, Boosaba Daoruang, Visute Poolvoralaks, Jina Osothslip. Directed by Yongyooth Thongkongtoon. Screenplay, Nontra Kumwong, Aummaraporn Phandintong, Vanridee Pongsittisak.

Crew

Camera (color), Somboon Phopituckkul; editor, Parn Bussban; music, Therdsak Chanpan; production designer, Arkadech Keawkotr; art director, Patchara Lertkai; costume designer, Boonchai Kiatteeraratana; sound (Dolby Digital), Nares Sarapatsorn, Sunya Chaiyapetch; assistant director, Ake Punyasee; casting, Jarupus Pattamasir. Reviewed at Hawaii Film Festival (Asian Showcase), Oct. 18, 2009. (Also in Bangkok, Tokyo, San Diego Asian, Udine, Jakarta film festivals.) Running time: 118 MIN.

With

Arak Amornsupasiri, Yarinda Bunnag, Krissana Sreadthatamrong, Sansanee Watananukul, James Alexander Mackie, Wiwatt Krongrasri.
With: Arak Amornsupasiri, Yarinda Bunnag, Krissana Sreadthatamrong, Sansanee Watananukul, James Alexander Mackie, Wiwatt Krongrasri.
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