Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
It is a film in two segments – the first part a romance between two men, and the second a mysterious tale about a soldier lost in the woods, bedeviled by the spirit of a shaman.
The fourth feature film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a great introspective slow movie that mixes real live events and fantastic tales. Far from being accessible, Tropical Malady is broken in two halves with the first part about the beginnings of a relationship between two men Keng (Banlop Lomnoi) and Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee) and then the same actors reprise theirs roles in a more metaphorical way of a quest of the spirit in a forest where Keng is lost. Tong is represented as a shaman who takes the animal form he wants and sometimes is naked in the forest. The struggle between the two characters symbolizes the implication of a loving relationship and how Keng is under Tong’s spell. At first we are convinced that it is the contrary, but when Keng salutes the gym coach we understand that it was an old lover. There’s also the moment in the caves when the woman offers to pass through a tunnel and Keng refuses to risk the experiment. Tong seems to be lunatic and not taking attention to these quick refusals, but later he goes into the dark and comes back as a shaman. It looks like Keng needs to prove his love and devotion to Tong. The tale that is set in the second half is metaphorical on this element.
Compared to Uncle Boonmee, the only other film by Weerasethakul I’ve ever saw, Tropical Malady seems to be even more personal as it speaks about the attraction of two young men that are proving to each other’s love. Weerasethakul, who is openly gay, often likes to play with human sexuality and the forces of attraction. It is a film that takes time to set itself into the viewers’ mind but once you get comfortable it is almost a silent film that carries many great imagery and thoughtful reflections.
After having watched two films by the Thai master, there’s already a sense of signature in his filmmaking and his storytelling. He let’s a lot of space for interpretation and calm. There’s a serenity in Weerasethakul’s films and a very human centered way of handling his stories. It’s also a little naive in its conception of the film form and his narratives are subtle and in the same time quite clear and old Cinema. This is an interesting approach and his language is fresh. This is a filmmaker you will be reading more about on this blog.