Sunday, April 03, 2011

Last Life in the Universe (2003) Pen-Ek Ratanaruang

I'm not sure I have ever seen a Thai movie before. This one was more than a little odd, but I enjoyed it a lot. It opens with an impossibility - the central character, Kenji (a Japanese fellow) musing over the possibility of suicide, being dead within three hours. He says its not for the normal reasons, but to relax and get away from it all. What's impossible is this shot
Life does seem sweet, however: he is a good looking young guy, has a nice apartment, one which looks more like a library than a house, he works in a library, every so often his brother comes round for what looks like a ritualised drinking session (this is his brother handing in his beer, shoes and briefcase before he makes his own appearance):
Nothing seems so busy that you'd need to kill yourself to get away from it. He has everything very organised
In fact, I'd say its the opposite - the lack of activity might be driving him nuts. That is, of course, until Kenji's brother is killed in his apartment (he's been with the wrong woman, it seems, and has the kind of boss who will send hitmen).

Every so often, the film cuts away to an unexplained woman (Noi)
but the connection is made about 20 minutes in. Kenji is perched on a bridge, thinking about his last lizard in the world story, looking like he's about to jump, but Noi's sister, Nid, sees him.
This scene is shown in a subsequent flash back (which left me a bit confused the first time I saw the movie): in going to help Kenji, Nid is killed in traffic.
The scenes bleed into each other here - we're watching Noi and Nid but hearing Kenji talk about loneliness - which made me think she's as lonely as he is.

When Noi returns Kenji's bag to him,
things take quite a turn - they have a silent dinner, walk along the riverside then he's asking "can I go to your home". Its here that the film is at its most odd, in that in the hour or so of the movie spent at Noi's house, nothing much happens.
The place is a mess,
he cleans up,
they talk a little (she's learning Japanese, he's learnt some Thai and they share a little English). She's more or less annoyed with his presence and even kicks him out at one point but, ultimately, she's grieving and he's a form of support. He has his own reasons for not wanting to go home - Noi thinks its a joke when he says "two dead people inside".

Poor Noi - she buys him some "fucking expensive" sushi to make amends, but he's allergic to fish. He does know the important things to say in Thai:
(she is pretty, beautiful even):
Eventually there's even a little bit of playfulness in their relationship, but it remains chaste and innocent throughout. I suspect that's what appeals to Noi about Kenji, as her sort of boyfriend is far from innocent. There's a scene where the house magically cleans itself
- I think this is about her getting her life back on track, getting her house in order

The movie has a spare aesthetic, is normally very slowly paced, with long, lingering shots and very slow closeups. Quite beautiful (the cinematographer is the famous Chris Doyle). Watching it a second time revealed so many things that I'd either missed or not understood the first time round. Still, there are some things left unanswered - why is Kenji in Thailand (he does have a suggestive major league tattoo), what does Noi do, what actually happens right at the end?

There's an overall tone of sweetness, and sadness, as these two quite unlikely characters come together. My favourite scene is towards the end, when Noi is getting ready to go to Japan and gives Kenji her car - its tender, funny and generous. Least favourite is the farcical second shootout in Kenji's apartment - it made no sense, and the hitmen were jokes.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Tung said...

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11:26 PM  
Blogger Tung said...

Wherever you go
Whatever you do
I will be right here waiting for you
Whatever it takes
Or how my heart breaks
I will be right here waiting for you

I took for granted, all the times
That I thought would last somehow
I hear the laughter, I taste the tears
But I can't get near you now
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11:38 PM  

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