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The Love of Siam

Homosexual romance and family grief are entangled to mildly appealing effect in the sprawling yuletide meller "The Love of Siam." Courting gay auds and straight friends, progressive Thai drama garnered impressive B.O. in pre-Christmas weeks, making it a huge local success despite its budgetary and narrative limitations.

With:
With: Sinja Plengpanich, Songsit Roongnophakunsri, Chemarn Boonyasak, Pimpan Buranapim, Mario Maurer, Witwisit Hiranyawongkul.

Homosexual romance and family grief are entangled to mildly appealing effect in the sprawling yuletide meller “The Love of Siam.” Courting gay auds and straight friends, progressive Thai drama garnered impressive B.O. in pre-Christmas weeks, making it a huge local success despite its budgetary and narrative limitations. Outside Thailand, the film may surface on the gay fest circuit and, with the right environment, in young-adult sidebars.

After a 20-minute prologue introducing prepubescent versions of its youthful protags, yarn moves to present-day Bangkok, where teenage Mew (Witwisit Hiranyawongkul) is lead singer and songwriter for a Thai boyband called August. On the cusp of great success, Mew re-encounters long-lost buddy Tong (Mario Maurer).

While both are having difficulty relating to their adoring girlfriends (or g.f. wannabes), both lads inwardly have no doubt about their feelings for each other. Much of pic’s success in Thailand was attributed to its gay theme, and the working out of true love between the two boys, despite societal and familial pressures, takes up a substantial amount of the running time.

Given equal emphasis, however, is the long-ago disappearance of Tong’s older sister Tang (Chemarn Boonyasak), depicted in the pic’s prologue, and its devastating toll on Tong’s family, especially his now-alcoholic father Korn (Songsit Roongnophakunsri). Compounding the family’s collective grief are Korn’s periodic, booze-inspired delusions about his daughter’s imminent return home.

While attending one of August’s recording sessions, Tong meets the band’s personal assistant June (also Chemarn Boonyasak). Since June is a dead ringer for his missing sister, Tong decides to hire her to impersonate his deceased sister and soothe his drunken father’s troubled soul. Western auds will have some trouble accepting that mom goes for the plan (in a comedy, maybe), and the narrative briefly flirts with the idea that supernatural elements may be at work before adhering strictly to meller conventions.

Writer-helmer Matthew Chookiat Sakveerakul (“13 Beloved”) also co-edited and even composed some of the boy-band songs, so his emotional engagement with the material is unquestionable. However, his passion transcends his directing ability, and pic could benefit from a trim for Western auds. Perfs, particularly by youthful amateur thesps, could have used a firmer hand.

Art direction is pro, but the sound is unfortunately reminiscent of the unfiltered recording style favored by Southeast’s Asia’s digital revolution. In contrast, the songs are mixed par excellence.

Title refers to the fact that much of pic’s teen-romance action transpires around the Siam Square shopping district of contempo Bangkok.

The Love of Siam

Thailand

Production: A Sahamongkolfilm Intl. presentation of a Baa-Ram-Ewe production. (International sales: Sahamongkolfilm, Bangkok.) Produced by Prachya Pinkaew, Sukanya Vongsthapat. Executive producer, Somsak Techaratanaprasert. Directed, written by Matthew Chookiat Sakveerakul.

Crew: Camera (color), Chitti Urnorakankij; editor, Sakveerakul, Lee Chatametikool; music, Kitti Kuremanee, Sakveerakul, Tee Chaiteerasuwet; production designer, Monchai Thongsrisuepsakul; art director, Thanakorn Boonlue; sound (Dolby Digital Surround-Ex), Waigoon Laopipatpinyo. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, Feb. 26, 2008. (In Berlin Film Festival -- market.) Feb. 26, 2008. Running time: 131 MIN.

With: With: Sinja Plengpanich, Songsit Roongnophakunsri, Chemarn Boonyasak, Pimpan Buranapim, Mario Maurer, Witwisit Hiranyawongkul.

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