The Chicago International Film Festival is back again, from Thursday, October 12th to Thursday, October 26th, and I’ll provide capsule reviews of as many of the films as I can manage to see. All films are shown at the AMC River East Theaters, 322 E. Illinois St. here in the great city of Chicago, Illinois.
According to the press materials for his film, Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang was interested in exploring interracial marriages as status signification, mixed with his jaundiced interest in the predominance and variety of Buddhist cults in Thailand. “Basically, insecurity is a lucrative business in this country.” The resulting film, Samui Song (Thailand, 2017) is an adventurous narrative mash-up that doesn’t always work, but is smartly and darkly entertaining nonetheless. Viyada (“Vi”), a well-known daytime television actress (Chermarn “Ploy” Boonyasak, a prolific young Thai actress often billed as Laila Boonyasak) crashes her car on a rural road. Being treated at the hospital, she meets the eccentric but engaging Guy Spenser (David Asavanond) and, sharing cigarettes and lunch with him, gives him the dirt; her husband Jerome (Stéphane Sednaoui, a photographer and filmmaker worth Googling…) is an impotent, abusive, privileged, navel-gazing western white guy in the thrall of The Holy One (Vithaya “Pu” Pansringarm), a cult priest “healer” who has his way with her, his follower’s wife, as Jerome’s religious offering to him. Easily convinced, Guy offers his services to her as her husband’s assassin, since he could use the money to help care for his sick, elderly, Alzheimer’s-addled mother. So much for the Double Indemnity – Postman – Body Heat exemplars – Ratanaruang is more interested in their value as signifiers than concrete references, and slowly but persuasively pulls us into his own meta-narrative rabbit-hole. The title refers to Koh Samui, a quiet resort island where Vi finds refuge, and a new lover, to start a better life. Or does she? I had a lot of puzzle-wrestling fun with this confident film, but the final ten minutes feature a fair amount of excessive cruelty and gore that may be a dealbreaker for some viewers. Ratanaruang’s amiably loose hand on the helm leads to some underwhelming performances and some temporal confusion, but his ideas are pretty intriguing and he’s a seasoned technical storyteller. Give this one a shot, by all means.
‘Samui Song’ will be shown on Saturday, October 14th at 8:30 pm, Sunday the 15th at 8:15 pm and Monday the 16th at 2:00 pm (an $8.00 matinee).