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November 30, 2012

Rak haeng Siam

by Franz Patrick


Rak haeng Siam (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★

Mew and Tong are neighbors and best friends in childhood. But when Tong’s sister (Laila Boonyasak) goes missing while trekking across a jungle with her friends and is never found by the rescue team, Tong’s parents (Sinjai Plengpanit, Songsit Roongnophakunsri) decide to uproot their family out of the neighborhood for a chance to move on from the tragedy. Years later, Mew (Witwisit Hiranyawongkul), now a part of a rising pop band, crosses paths with Tong (Mario Maurer) while the latter attempts to buy the debut CD of Mew’s band at a stand. Upon their reconnection, they become more convinced that there might be something else in their relationship other than friendship.

It would be misleading to label “The Love of Siam,” written and directed by Chookiat Sakveerakul, as another movie that explores the complications of coming out of the closet and what it means to fall for someone of the same sex. While it does touch upon the homosexuality of the two young adults and the struggles they must endure and eventually attempt to break through, it is quite admirable that the material strives to be something beyond its premise which makes the images and emotions projected onto the screen refreshing and exciting.

The ongoing theme of the picture is loss, how losing someone takes a toll on those left behind on a physical and spiritual level. One of the most interesting elements in the story is the changes that occur in Tong’s parents: his father, once loving and lively, becoming an alcoholic and his mother becoming overly protective. Both have shut down emotionally and it is curious to watch if they are aware of it. The depression in the household is dealt with realism and melodrama, just like the relationships outside of it, which isn’t always a bad thing. In a way, the exaggerations are utilized to relay a message of truth about life: there are a whole lot more important issues than finding or rekindling romance. Despite the film’s two-and-a-half-hour running time, it does not feel laborious. Although it has its share of clichés, mainly with its set-up, when we do come across the unexpected, at least none of what is communicated appears phony.

I wouldn’t go as far to say that Maurer and Hiranyawongkul have great chemistry but I do believe that their characters want to be with one another. The screenplay manages to prove its strength by consistently showing Tong and Mew’s love for one another through what they do for each other and not what they do with each other. In most LGBT movies, the easy answer is, given enough time, allowing the couple engage in sexual acts which serves as a release from the tension that the narrative has constructed. But here, it is much more thoughtful because the release comes in the form of the characters turning within and evaluating what course of action feels right for them at a particular moment in time.

“Rak haeng Siam” has an appropriate ending because it reflects what each of the characters value in terms of where they are in their lives. Some of us may feel sorry or sad for those who end up the way they do because we relate to them but the material makes the distinction that they are happy, if not content, with their choices. So, if we go beyond relating by means of understanding, we should be happy for them. At least from the way I see it, everyone does end up with a happy ending… only they just don’t know it yet.

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