Soi Cowboy

Soi Cowboy

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Since black and white are polar opposites, it seems fitting that Thomas Clay should make use of a monochrome palette for the vast majority of this film exploring the intricacies of the divide between the haves and have nots in Thailand – and by extension, the cultural divide between the poorer Thai classes and rich Westerners - where everything, it seems, comes down to transactions.

For this is a film less about its central characters – Tobias (Nicolas Bro) and Koi (Pimwalee Thampanyasan) – than it is about the nature of what can be bought and sold. Even they are locked in a relationship, which is as much based on cash supply as it is on love. That’s not to say Tobias doesn’t wish it were otherwise. He’s a man who takes comfort in the silence of the apartment he shares with Koi – a pregnant former sex worker. But as the formal, Antonioni-inflected slow-moving first segment of the film unfolds, it’s clear that almost everything about them is a mismatch.

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He is, in many ways, an emblem of the West – eager to enter into a relationship with Koi/Thailand, loving her, if you will, yet at the same time failing to realise this is an uneven marriage, where money and security are the driving forces behind the Thai side of the deal.

The second, shorter segment of the film – in saturated colours from the Lynch side of the rainbow – shows how even filial love and duty are little more than commodities easily sacrificed for cash.

While there is no doubt that Clay has something to say, the way he chooses to say it will not be for everyone. He deliberately withholds any sort of hook from the audience, letting early scenes of Tobias and Koi paddling around their apartment in near silence run for patience-stretching periods. Many will also find the dual narrative – which leaves one undecided as to whether it is circling back on itself or occurring in a parallel universe – hard to handle. Clay doesn’t want for ideas, and taken on their own, several of the scenes have a haunting quality, but his symbolism is in grave danger of smothering the story and his destination fails to fully justify the journey. Perhaps it’s time he turned his indisputable directing talent to a script written by someone else.

Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2009
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An uneven relationship between a westerner and a Thai former sex worker.
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Director: Thomas Clay

Writer: Thomas Clay

Starring: Nicolas Bro, Pimwalee Thampanyasan, Petch Mekoh, Natee Srimanta, Somrak Khamsing, Porntip Papanai, Art Supawatt Purdy

Year: 2008

Runtime: 117 minutes

Country: Thailand, UK

Festivals:

Leeds 2008

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