Complex Partial Seizure in Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Ploy (2007) September 7, 2007Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemanila.
Originally published in Digital Buryong on August 19, 2007.
Written and Directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang
Cast: Lalita Panyopas, Pornwut Sarasin, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Porntip Papanai
Cinematography Chankit Chamnivikaipong
Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s affection to details is exemplary. Opening a fridge, moving of bathroom curtains, lighting a cigarette, pouring wine, stealing a tuxedo, applying make-up — everything looks so eerie and dreamlike it feels like everyone of us in the audience forgot how to blink for fear of missing even a single frame. Dang mentions that there is a thief in their hotel room. Wit says, Is something missing? She leaves it unanswered. We know that she intends to get Ploy out of their room. But Ratanaruang stops there. Dang’s agony is paranoia. Something triggerred from the outside but she’s not letting it show. Later on, we realize who the thief is. Whether she is unconscious or not about suspecting Ploy of theft, stealing Ploy’s necklace is not only a manifestation of her inner evil, but insanity as well. By the moment she steps out of the hotel, reality unfolds and eats her up, chews her incessantly.
It is tempting to compare Ratanaruang with Wong Kar-wai, considering a few similarities in plot details. Is Wit’s mention of love and marriage’s expiration date an allusion to Takeshi Kaneshiro’s hopeless-romantic character in Chungking Express? Nearing its end, when Wit holds Dang’s hands as she comfortably places her head on his shoulders, is it to evoke a doomed relationship reminiscent of Su Lizhen and Mr. Chow in In the Mood for Love (or perhaps Happy Together)? Who knows.
Perhaps the closest that these two directors share in common is Chris Doyle — Wong’s partner in crime in some of his highly-acclaimed films — whose presence in Last Life in the Universe is very much felt. However, the aforementioned assertion is no way to lessen Ratanaruang’s brilliance. Originality should never be an issue in criticism. Everyone is indebted to everyone else who came before him, and describing a film “unoriginal” is ignorance, not to mention insensitivity. Ploy is unsettling in its own way but never disturbing, achieves subtlety without excessive indulgence, and possesses a unique beauty that can only come out among Asian films. I am sure any film geek here would be familiar with that.
A realization: Ploy leaves a feeling of uneasiness, as if every scene is happening in the corner of our eye. Askew, we enthused over the idea of simply observing what will happen next, will Ploy awaken alive, will Wit and Dang reconcile before the funeral, why did she quit acting, et cetera. We even enjoy the sight of the bartender and the chambermaid taking their time in reaching orgasm. The pain of our existence, the fleeting nature of life, and the oceanic anomaly of emotions we need to swim — Ratanaruang captured all of them in this film. A bittersweet symphony, choking the agony of relationships — it is transience redefined.
Leaving the theatre in a drunken stupor, I asked the soundproof walls whom I envy for seeing countless films in exhibition during the Festival, Is it only in Asia that love expires? * * * * *