Eye For Film >> Movies >> Wonderful Town (2007) Film Review
Reviewed by: Richard Mellor
Exploring the sufferings of Thai villagers in the aftermath of the 2006 tsunami, Wonderful Town is a poignant, meditative romantic tale whose success hinges on what it doesn't say. Although this fictional community is based on a real one where 8,000 people lost their lives, there is only one direct mention of the catastrophe itself, and director Aditya Assarat employs zero tormented flashbacks or teary recollections.
He rightfully assumes his audience to have enough basic knowledge of the subject - so well-documented, after all - and instead conjures an entirely new drama from the social debris left once the waters cleared. An assured debut feature, Assarat's film is in fact much less about the tsunami than what followed in the communities it so ravaged. They’re like rehabilitated patients, cured but forever unable to regain blessed normality.
Wonderful Town zeroes in on a budding, brooding romance in Assarat’s fictional setting. Ton (Anchalee Saisoontorn) is an architect from Bangkok, arriving having volunteered to oversee the erection of a new beachside development. Tempted by the beauty and serenity of the area, he finds the same qualities in Na (Supphasit Kansen), the owner of the small and largely empty hotel Ton opts to stay in.
Assarat spends much of his first hour establishing a delightfully understated love story. It's one with little dialogue and still fewer withering looks; instead we see Na pausing giddily as she cleans her Ton’s room, and he shyly buys her oranges as a surprise gift. It's a balletic, slow courtship. Both actors excel: Kansen is reluctant, yet rapt and desperate for her man, while Saisoontorn mixes smitten boyishness with a suave, sarcastic and slightly ominous cool.
The waters soon muddy, in the film's own social tsunami, as news of the romance spreads around the cloistered community. Na's brother in particular objects, and determines to quell the affair by any method. Suddenly there's considerable menace in this beautiful idyll; sly serpents in a deserted paradise. The suggestion is that, post-tsunami, the town is simply unable to abide happiness; in the same way that violence often leads to violence, so the injustice of the freak storm has bred further human malevolence and cruelty.
A similarly haunted sadness underpins Wonderful Town's sumptuous cinematography. Yes, there are lush coconut trees and verdant mountains, but much more memorable are the landscapes changed by the storm - a flowering former tin mine; now-skeletal buildings illuminated by purple sunsets; tragically quiet markets. Everything feels languid, as if in mourning, and the pleasures are tenderly simple. A child kicks puddles while two girls play pat-a-cake on the wall of an empty square.
Behind it all, subtly in the background, lies the tsunami. There's only fleeting surface evidence of it - the ghostly emptiness of Na's hotel and the nearby beaches, Ton's building project, the watery scenery and footage of gentle waves - but the storm's continuing effect is hard to miss as the film’s narrative unravels. And while Wonderful Town's conclusion is too confused and overblown, its enduring portrait of a world still in strife, and perhaps forever scarred in some way, is achingly clear.Reviewed on: 17 Mar 2009
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