×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Soi Cowboy

Brit helmer Thomas Clay's sophomore feature, "Soi Cowboy," demonstrates a growing maturity.

With:
With: Nicolas Bro, Pimwalee Thampanyasan, Petch Mekoh, Natee Srimanta, Somluk Kuamsing, Art Supawatt, Pornthip Papanai, Amporn Parnkratoke, Aritkarn Malaichu. (English, Thai, Danish dialogue)

Brit helmer Thomas Clay’s sophomore feature, “Soi Cowboy,” demonstrates a growing maturity. This slowburning, enigmatic drama, mostly about a Danish man and a Thai woman awkwardly living together in Bangkok, is deeper and more likeable than Clay’s controversial debut, “The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael.” Gone are the latter film’s shock tactics, allowing Clay’s cinematic sophistication to sparkle all the better. Consequently, a certain highbrow contingent will eagerly pony up for “Cowboy,” but others may see little more here than a preening bricolage of allusions, richer in style than substance. B.O. prospects are strictly niche.

Corpulent Tobias Christensen (Danish character actor Nicolas Bro), a filmmaker whose career seems roughly in the same place as Thomas Clay’s, and his unnamed, pregnant g.f. (newcomer Pimwalee Thampanyasan) are first met during a typical morning in their small, one-bedroom apartment. Not a word is spoken between them for at least 15 minutes of real time as each breakfasts on toast and fish, respectively.

Tobias then sets off to do some shopping, purchasing DVDs from a black-market stall (he requests, without success, a copy of “The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael”), a couple of Viagra tablets at a pharmacy and a gold bracelet for his lady. In a later comic, but quietly revealing, scene that underscores the barely concealed economic underpinnings of their relationship, she expresses pleasure with her gift, but seems more interested in its resale value, “in case of trouble,” than its sentimental significance.

Dialogue and later events imply that Tobias and the Thai woman met at a bar or brothel in Bangkok’s seedy Soi Cowboy red-light district, and having fallen for her, offered to support her and take her away from it all, even though she avoids having sex with him these days. However, she still stays in touch with her friends from Soi Cowboy, including Cha , a gofer for a nightclub gangster. In pic’s later half Cha travels to his rural hometown to track down his older brother, also an employee of the gangster, who’s gone missing.

For roughly 90 minutes, pic chugs along, loping beside Toby and his g.f. as they putter around the house, and eventually decide to take a trip to Ayutthaya to stay at a hotel and see its legendary temples. A jaunt around one ruin pays particular homage to Michelangelo Antonioni’s “L’Avventura” as the couple is lost from view amid slow tracking shots of near-empty spaces and grumbling soundtrack noise.

Pic then shifts into lurid color and genre territory, as action now follows Cha on his trip to find his brother, ending with an eerie scene in a Soi Cowboy nightclub that tips its hat — and probably a scarf and few pairs of gloves — to David Lynch.

As it happens, “Cowboy” is chock-full of allusions to Clay’s pantheon of auteur heroes, including not just Antonioni and Lynch and many other Europeans, but also notable and newer Asian helmers like Hou Hsiao-hsien (the pacing, the languid atmosphere) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (the bipartite structure, the Thai setting itself).

Although Clay manages, just about, to keep these references in service of his story, it not yet clear what his own directorial voice looks like, or what exactly it is he wants to say. Sneaking suspicion remains that the meat of movie is the relatively simple story of Tobias and his woman, and the gangster stuff is just tacked on to add exotic spice.

Although made on a much smaller budget, per press notes, than “The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael,” pic looks technically pro, though lensing by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is a little murky at times in the monochrome section, perhaps deliberately.

Popular on Variety

Soi Cowboy

U.K.-Thailand

Production: A Pull Back Camera, De Warrenne Pictures Co. Production. (International sales: The Coproduction Office, Paris.) Produced by Joseph Lang, Tom Waller. Executive producer, Thomas Clay. Directed, written, edited by Thomas Clay.

Crew: Camera (color, B&W, 16-to-35mm), Sayombhu Mukdeeprom; production designer, Nick Kemp; sound (Dolby Digital), Thomas Clay. Reviewed at the Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 16, 2008. Running time: 116 MIN.

With: With: Nicolas Bro, Pimwalee Thampanyasan, Petch Mekoh, Natee Srimanta, Somluk Kuamsing, Art Supawatt, Pornthip Papanai, Amporn Parnkratoke, Aritkarn Malaichu. (English, Thai, Danish dialogue)

More Film

  • The Courier

    Film Review: 'The Courier'

    You don’t expect subtlety from a movie whose very first second consists of the heroine getting a fist to her face, or whose poster suggests the real “star” is her leather-clad posterior. Still, a bagful o’ hammers might provide exactly the same amount and type of entertainment value as “The Courier.” This stridently dumb action [...]

  • Richard Jewell

    AFI Fest Film Review: Clint Eastwood's 'Richard Jewell'

    Can you recall who was responsible for 1996’s Centennial Olympic Park bombing? Three days after the incident, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (accurately) reported that Richard Jewell, the security guard who discovered a backpack containing three pipe bombs and tipped the police, sparing the lives of innumerable concertgoers, had become the FBI’s main suspect. But was it [...]

  • 'No Safe Spaces' Review: A Doc

    Film Review: 'No Safe Spaces'

    If, like me, you’re an absolutist about the right to free speech, not just the legal letter of it but the stubborn spirit of it (as in: bring on the people I hate the most and let them speak, speak, speak until they’re blue in the face), then when you watch “No Safe Spaces,” a [...]

  • Frozen 2

    ‘Frozen 2’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Walt Disney Animation claims the top spot in spending with “Frozen 2.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $6.29 million through Sunday for 1,157 national ad airings on [...]

  • The Farewell Movie

    'The Farewell's' China Release Delayed

    The long-anticipated release of Awkwafina’s drama “The Farewell” in mainland China has been delayed. The holdup came just two days before the film’s scheduled outing this Friday. The film, about a Chinese American family who hide their aging matriarch’s cancer diagnosis from her, was scheduled to be released in China some four months after its [...]

  • Adam Driver poses for photographers upon

    Film News Roundup: Adam Driver Honored With SFFILM Award

    In today’s film news roundup, Adam Driver is honored, Robocop will be reborn and Hola Mexico Film Festival and The Montalbán Theatre are teaming for a screening series for potential Oscar nominees. HONORS SFFILM has selected Adam Driver as the recipient of the SFFILM award for acting, formerly the Peter J. Owens Award. Driver, who [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content