Lost in the City of Cyborgs (Love of Siam, Chookiat Sakveerakul, 2007) October 20, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemanila, Queer.
Thai Title: Rak Haeng Siam
Written and directed by Chookiat Sakveerakul
Cast: Witwisit Hiranyawongkul, Mario Maurer, Chermarn Boonyasak
So this is the type of queerness that even homophobic dummies will like just to sell themselves to the minority. Love of Siam, in its tedious exploration of domestic breakdown, is a tricky attempt to put forth a biting commentary on the bourgeoisie in exchange for a coy subplot of homosexual romance. The coming-of-age story may sound sappy enough but the way it lingers on the displacement of traditional values shows an irresistible sleight of hand.
Of course there is always a lame childhood to blame. When Tong’s family moved out after his sister’s disappearance, Mew not only lost a friend but also a morsel of himself, something that reminds him of escape from isolation. A happy childhood is not something that he really aspires for, but when his grandmother dies, loneliness seems to be the only option left for him – – a choice he embraces without hateful misgiving. Gifted, he throws his feelings to music and forms a band with his high school friends. Tong, on the other hand, has to bear the stern upbringing of his mother. His father has turned imbecile, giving everything up to diurnal booze, hopelessly struggling to recuperate after his daughter’s loss. Tong grows up in a company of pompous friends, he used to have a steady girlfriend, his needs are well-supported, and his mother leads him to the path of a promising future: a successful career and a happy family life. The two meet and discover their feelings for each other, in an unexpected time and place, and Tong’s mother finds out. After trying to pull them apart, she faces her own tragedies, Mew’s band manager who looks like her daughter, her husband’s failing health, and her personal inhibitions in life. Too many points that Love of Siam drives across that it is difficult to find a thread that connects them without jumping one after another, hence this confused description, except for every character’s desire to connect and fulfill their idea of happiness – – so elusive it is almost invisible.
Despite the troubled couple’s presence in the periphery, it is amusing how their relationship takes up most of the film’s interest. Could it be that heterosexual romance has become too boring and ineffective? Or is it guilty pleasure seeing one’s fantasies on screen? Sakveerakul has cleverly bargained this romance to force us to examine his other characters, other maladies in the lives of their families that speak of ironies in Thailand’s booming socio-economic state. Impressive are the details that emphasize the layers of waywardness – – disappearance, death, and loss – – for the freshness they bring to inflate the narrative. Unfortunately, towards the middle, this jampacked narrative also stalls its development, losing focus, and dragging everything in seams. Its length, however, provides a lot of room for sturdy characterizations, as well as popular cultural references that enable to bring out the core of its intentions. Emphasis is given to the importance of family, on how a person’s life mirrors the disintegration of his own, which in a way brings us to moral fairness determined by economics, that poor people are not alone in their suffering – – the rich also have their share of pain, less prominent but more dreadful, their inability to be content in their comfortable lives, their search for a void in their massive lines of disconnection, looking for a needle in a haystack. I heard the Martians are confused – – why are human beings so damn complicated?
Homosexuality has always been an issue – – at the back of our heads there is always that inkling of doubt, of mighty skepticism that even gays and lesbians themselves honestly admit. It will never be an accepted norm because it is the way of the world, the discourse between superiority and inferiority, who displays power over whom and who consents to be ruled upon, traverses the dialectic of gender – – it is human error, human weakness. Perhaps it is even easier to predict the end of the world than when this clamor over same-sex marriage will stop. To reveal irregularities that go against one’s religion is human nature. Ever wonder why in the entire course of our lifetime we yearn for equality yet we only get compromised freedom? Why even in death there is still no such thing as fair equilibrium? It is because equality is a non-human privilege, a sacrament among worthy people outside earth, fed to us through a fragment of deception called satisfaction, which, as an additional jest, is too difficult to discern among other emotions that we have. The existence of stereotypes is often seen as evil, the way it presupposes relationships, but don’t you think in as much as they create boxes they also ease the burden of going back to square one? Preposterous logic, even stupid, but life’s more stupid if you don’t get along with it.
Mew, the effeminate, knows exactly what he wants. He is talented, he has an outlet to release his repressed feelings, he believes people who bully him are unworthy of his attention. He knows when to fight. He shows his admiration discreetly, the woman in him believes that he must not be aggressive – – the man must make the first move. On the other hand, Tong, the knight in shining armor, the vulnerable, handsome guy believes their relationship is worth trying, only a strong figure in his life is opposed to it. While Mew’s intentions are clear, Tong is confused. The only way he can show his feelings is to show them – – to put his arms on his shoulder, to go to his house and reassure him, to kiss him tenderly. Everything is simple – – except that human beings are not as simple as their actions. After their feelings are revealed, it becomes a compromise. Mew is ready to give up when Tong’s mother talks him out of it. Bright future for my son, he will find a wife, have children, happy family. As you can see, the problem with the effeminate character is that he is too selfless – – he loves his partner so much he is ready to give him up – – his idea of love can easily be mistaken for daftness. Tong self-destructs, he may be a man but emotionally he is a retard, to whom will he express his feelings? To football? His newly-found romance is too alien for him and his friends can only provide condescending provocations and a finger in his ass. Now that Tong is ready to commit, oblivious as he is to the outcome of his actions, Mew shies away – – their lines never meet – – they think of each other yet they can’t be together. Such fate. I wonder, how much of our stay in this world is spent in tragedy?
Good thing there is an eternal fan base for this type of films. The “misleading” marketing of the film as a typical teenage romance disturbed the conservative camps in Thailand when they found out the queer angle that has gathered a lot of buzz from the fans. Fanfictions online are widespread – – alternate endings, chance encounters of Mew and Tong, even haters of Donut – – which seals its enduring recall in the years to come. I admit the film itself is not great – – but above average, fleshy, schmaltzy, coolly observant, sensitive, and the controlled handling of the material makes up for the overlong sequences. God takes the cue when it ends. Why is it that when something good happens, God always takes the credit?
When it fades out, there is that painful realization of that distinct human disability, of wanting love and pushing it away, of not only wanting love but needing it, of needing it and pushing it away, of sacrificing individual happiness for the two of you thinking that it will be a better resolution, that if you are really for each other, then fate has its way of bringing you two again together, but what if fate has Alzheimer’s, what if fate is the evil bully who tortured you when you were a kid, what if fate wants you to suffer because he’s Catholic? No matter what, there is nothing more intimate than someone’s head resting on your shoulder, you two are thinking about each other, that same moment, that comfort in strangeness, the future ahead of you no matter how narrow this world has become through the years, and the hell other people care.