Two rural youths discover running away to the big city isn’t such a good idea in “The River Chao Phraya.” This mild Thai adventure is a bit too white-washed for grownups, and not compelling enough to hold most juve auds’ attentions. Writer-helmer Sampson Williams’ debut feature may find berth in some fests’ Asian spotlights, but otherwise won’t travel much farther than its naive protagonists do.
Bratty, ever-hungry Ju (Krissana Rattanakul) and sensible Jod (Eak Natilocksana) are rural brothers who tend their water buffalo, hunt mouse “game” for dinner, and swim with friends while their mother toils in the rice fields (Dad died some years earlier.) When Mom collapses from an unspecified ailment, 13-year-old Jod decides he and 7-year-old Ju will shoulder this poor family’s financial needs by going to Bangkok, where they imagine work is easy to come by.
Fixing up a makeshift raft from bamboo, the two drift down-river. Buddhist monks take them in one night, a riverside family (whose discontented teen daughter gives Jod his first kiss) another. At last arriving in the city’s outskirts, they soon run afoul of juvenile delinquents.
Meanwhile, unlikely coincidences keep a sympathetic police officer on the boys’ trail. When he finally returns them home safe, there’s a too-convenient suggestion that the cop might become Mom’s Husband No. 2.
Thai-born U.S. helmer Williams’ feature began as a student project, so its rough edges can be forgiven to an extent. Still, the pacing is wayward, with comic and suspense elements alike often sloppily executed. Perfs are okay on a somewhat amateur plane (though Natilocksana has assured camera presence), with visuals on the grainy side. A lively synth score rates as pic’smost pro element.