The difference between creating a social-media personality and living in the real world is brought sharply into focus in the Thai romantic drama “Snap.” Centered on an Instagram-preoccupied 26-year-old whose reunion with high-school friends triggers second thoughts about her impending marriage, the pic reps another impressive achievement by leading indie writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee (“P-047,” “Tang Wong”). Setting his tale against the backdrop of Thailand’s 2014 military coup, Jaturanrasamee has fashioned an absorbing study of young locals grappling with personal identity in an atmosphere of political instability and social disharmony. “Snap” performed OK domestically in limited release early this year and deserves to improve on the limited festival exposure it’s thus far received.
Forever posting bubbly messages and bright pictures of everywhere she visits and everything she’s eating, Bangkok office worker Peung (Waruntorn Paonil) is at first glance the very picture of a bright young millennial thing. With her marriage to hunky military officer Mann (Grisana Punpeng) on the horizon, Peung seems to have everything in front of her.
Away from emoticons and cheery hashtags, it’s a different story. Peung’s relationship with the steady-but-uninspiring Mann lacks passion, and she’s still got a thing for Boyd (Toni Rakkaen), a high-school boyfriend now making a name for himself as a wedding photographer. As martial law starts to take effect, Peung is invited to the wedding of nerdy friend Pu (Soifa Saenkhamkon, also the film’s co-casting director) and her geeky fiance, Aey (Chakphet Goontong). Celebrations are taking place in Chanthaburi, the provincial town where Peung lived until her army general father was transferred to Bangkok during the 2006 coup.
Jaturanrasamee’s well-tuned screenplay positions Peung and Boyd as the odd ones out. Peung’s sudden move to the capital resulted in her absence from group photos in the high-school yearbook. As the book’s designated photographer and one of those snappers with an aversion to being in front of the lens, Boyd is also missing from the book. Both are represented in the album as dotted-line figures, as if present in spirit at least. Once reunited in Chanthaburi, Peung asks Boyd why he failed to show up for an important date just before her departure.
After Boyd answers that particular question badly, his conversations with Peung improve. When the possibility of renewing the romance emerges, Peung slides into melancholy. Apart from uncertainty about marrying Mann, she is saddened by how much things have changed at her school. A special seat she shared with Boyd has been removed. An exotic fish they cared for has been taken from the school pond and placed in a local aquarium. It’s only been eight years since high school finished and she’s just 26 years old, yet Peung is already asking questions like “How come nothing is as good as it used to be?”
In segments such as these, “Snap” sharply identifies Peung as representative of many millennials whose sense of time has been compressed, and whose likelihood of experiencing early-onset nostalgia is heightened by the avalanche of images and information they’ve grown up with.
Things have also changed for Peung’s male friends Rung (Chottirat Wareerattanaral) and Nop (Jirawat Charncheaw). Using social media instead of personal contact, Nop has unfriended his formerly close pal for being on opposite sides of the red-shirt/yellow-shirt political divide that’s sparked violence and created deep social disharmony in Thailand over the past 15 years. It’s not all anxiety and uncertainty for Peung and her friends. The life of the party is bride-to-be Pu, a chatterbox who lights up every scene she’s in and tells the frank and very funny tale of how her initial connection with Aey on an Internet dating site led to sexual fireworks when they finally met in person.
No melodrama or raising of voices is required to paint a powerful picture of Peung falling apart as the gulf between the persona she presents online and the life she’s actually living becomes deeper and more troubling. As with his previous works, including the personality-switch psychodrama “P-047” and his “Tamarind Ghost” contribution to the omnibus feature “Sawasdee Bangkok,” Jaturanrasamee directs with a firm, low-key tonal control that ultimately delivers big emotional rewards. A fine example of this in “Snap” is a key scene in which Peung and Boyd arrange a late-night meeting at Chanthaburi’s Kung Kraben Aquarium. As it unfolds, some viewers may feel it doesn’t quite deliver on promises of revelations and true confessions. But the movie’s closing chapter puts this sequence and other lingering threads into sharp and highly satisfying context.
Singer-actress Paonil impresses in her debut screen performance. Under Jaturanrasamee’s firm guidance, the newcomer captures all the external confidence and inner insecurity of someone who’s still youthful yet feels her youth has somehow slipped away. Paonil’s striking facial features and expressions play a major role in conveying this theme. In some shots she could pass for a teenager; in others she looks 35. Though it’s Paonil’s show all the way Rakkaen and Punpeng are fine as the men in Peung’s fractured life.
Precision editing (by Jaturanrasamee’s regular collaborators Kamontorn Eakwattanakij and Manussa Vorasingha) gives the film a slightly dreamy quality without pushing into the realms of fantasy. The theme of looking at oneself in the emotional mirror is nicely complemented by symmetrical compositions prevalent in the smooth cinematography of ace lenser Umpornpol Yugala. The production looks terrific on a low budget and is very well served by a lovely piano-based score.