An imaginative combo of drama and talking heads documentary, “#BKKY” offers illuminating insights into the romantic, sexual, and gender identity issues confronting Bangkok youths in the 17-19 age bracket. Nontawat Numbenchapol’s briskly paced and brightly packaged third feature is easily accessible for viewers just about everywhere. A respectable run in mainstream and LGBT-themed festivals looks likely following the film’s world premiere at Busan.
After examining the lives of villagers affected by adverse political and economic circumstances in his documentaries “Boundary” and “By the River” (both 2013), Numbenchapol has taken a neat approach to his portrait of youngsters in the big city. Most of the running time is occupied by the scripted story of Jojo (Ploiyukhon Rojanakatanyoo), a 17-year-old high school student whose flirtation with fellow female student Q (Anongnart Yusananda) becomes more serious. Sprinkled throughout the tale are snippets of interviews Numbenchapol conducted with 100 teenagers prior to shooting the drama.
In the sweet and funny opening sequence, all we see is a game of footsies under a school desk while Q slowly musters up the courage to declare her feelings to Jojo. For her part, Jojo seems most concerned with final exam results and which university she’ll be accepted into. Once the faces of the young ladies are revealed, it’s clear Jojo is attracted to Q and is both excited and slightly terrified by her first experience of same-sex romance.
It doesn’t take long for complication and confusion to set in. Q is only interested in girls and is much more committed to the relationship. Jojo seems uncertain about where all this is heading and worries that her strict father (Kittipol Kesmanee) will twig to the fact that she and Q are more than just friends. Blind to Q’s devotion, Jojo suspects straight girl Pleum (Natrada Thammapunya) is Q’s secret lover. Then there’s Jeff (Jeff Watson Kiatmontri) and Jasper (Jasper Kesavatana Dohrs), a couple of skater dudes who catch Jojo’s heterosexual eye.
The documentary material is astutely inserted by Numbenchapol and co-editor Wasunan Hutawet to embellish and expand upon issues raised in the course of Jojo and Q’s relationship. With amazing frankness and good cheer the young interview subjects discuss all manner of topics including sexual orientations, gender identity, loss of virginity, same-sex relationships, and hopes for the future. One young man proudly announces his dream is to be “a fabulous ladyboy.” Another wants to have a baby. A girl matter-of-factly talks about “dating guys and tomboys.”
Much is written these days about the roles of gender identity and sexual orientation in contemporary youth rebellion. #BKKY makes a valuable contribution to the discussion, with spirited testimonials from young people with no inhibitions about who they are and how they view the world around them.
Nicely packaged on a modest budget, the film features some highly impressive drone camera work in skateboard sequences. The only bum note is the overuse of music during the documentary footage. With such lively and engaging participants there’s little need for backing tracks.