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DVD SAVANT

Wonderful Town


Wonderful Town
Kino Video
2007 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic widescreen / 92 min. / Street Date March 3, 2009 / 29.95
Starring Anchalee Saisoontorn, Supphasit Kansen, Dul Yaambunying.
Cinematography Armpornpol Yukol
Production Design Karanyapas Khamsin
Film Editor Lee Chatametikool
Original Music Koichi Shimizu, Zai Kunning
Produced by Soros Sukhum, Jetnipth Teerakiulchanyut
Written and Directed by Aditya Assarat

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Wonderful Town has what film festivals are looking for. It's a naturalistic story of a subdued romance set in an exotic location and keyed to a devastating historic event. The beachside resort town of Takua Pa in southern Thailand is green and lush; a quiet breeze blows in from the Indian Ocean. But the peaceful mood is deceptive. Four years ago a monster tsunami swept the entire region, killing 8,000 vacationers. The local economy was destroyed and is only now beginning to recover. Schooled at USC, the first-time Thai director Aditya Assarat uses this modern setting as a background for a pleasant romance between two shy and respectful young people, who discover that the psychic effects of the tsunami are still very much alive. The 2007 feature made a positive impression and won awards at festivals worldwide.

Young, pretty Na (Supphasit Kansen) would at first seem to be the maid at a slightly dingy-looking hotel. We soon discover that she's the owner, that her parents were lost in the tsunami and that her brother Wit (Dul Yaambunying) has left to become a petty gangster in the nearby village. Na has a couple of people helping her run the place, but there are few visitors. Takua Pa looks like paradise but is really a ghost town finally beginning to show signs of economic activity. Ton (Anchalee Saisoontorn) is a pleasant young contractor's architect from Bangkok, come down to spend two months overseeing the construction of a new hotel on the mostly devastated beach. The tsunami came seemingly erased what was once a busy tourist area. Just next door is a ruin that is said to be haunted.

Director Assarat takes his time developing his romance. Na and Ton are immediately attracted to each other but show it by exchanging polite small talk and minor favors. The deliberate pace marks Wonderful Town as iffy commercial material: time moves at its own pace as we watch Ton drift down the lonely road to the beach or observe Ton help Na bring in the laundry. As in any romance, we keep a keen lookout to see when this naturally compatible pair will get together.

But the 'wonderful' town is deceiving; we keep getting subtle signals of trouble ahead. Na mentions that her neighbors are beginning to gossip, a concern that doesn't bother big-city boy Ton. He's only recently emerged from some rough years of drinking and hasn't yet made up with his father. To him Takua Pa and Na are a paradise. Na contacts her brother Wit in the village. Wit refuses to help her run the hotel and advises her not to get involved with the outsider. We don't understand what the issues are beyond Wit's cryptic remark, "Once a gangster, always a gangster." Ton's car is broken into not soon thereafter. Ton and Na are harassed by the local unemployed punks when they drive out of town for a picnic. Is all this an expression of Wit's possessiveness for his sister? Is he afraid that he'll lose his part-ownership of the hotel? Wonderful Town seems to suggest that the tsunami has left an indefinable streak of bitterness and rage in its wake.

Assarat begins Wonderful Town with a shot of waves gently breaking on the shore. It's a reminder that the ocean can turn deadly without reason and without warning, but we're still not prepared for the film's ending. The story advances are so tentative, with little in the way of complex communication between the dreamy lovers, that the conclusion will take most of us by surprise.

Critics lauded Wonderful Town's attention to everyday details, and indeed it's all too easy to simply relax and enjoy the pleasant changes in the weather. Even the rains appear to be gentle; we hear no complaints about tropical insects. The main actors are likeable and attractive, and we have to wonder if we're perhaps missing a level of cultural communication that a native Thai would pick up on. Just the same Wonderful Town is a remarkable first feature, with a texture and visual rhythm all of its own.


Kino Video's DVD of Wonderful Town is a fine enhanced transfer of elements in excellent condition, allowing us to appreciate the quality of the tropical skies and the texture of the water puddles on the hotel roof. The music score by Koichi Shimizu and Zai Kunning favors the guitar. Sadly, no extras are included.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Wonderful Town rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 3, 2009

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies .



DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2009 Glenn Erickson

See more exclusive reviews on the Savant Main Page.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics. Also, don't forget the 2009 Savant Wish List. T'was Ever Thus.

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