This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
You wouldn’t immediately associate the writer/director of this movie, Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, as being the writer of Tom yum goong (aka Warrior King, aka The Protector). After all, there’s a grand total of zero elephants being thrown through plate glass windows. Language aside, the only other common thread comes in the shape of Petchtai Wongkamlao, comic relief of Tom yum goong and Ong-Bak fame. Cherm, or Midnight My Love as seems to be the settled upon English title, affords him a seemingly rare straight drama role. Are we witnessing the genesis of a new Takeshi Kitano?
Hardly, but it does prove that Wongkamlao can act with far more subtlety and skill than was evidenced in the other roles us poor Thai-cinema deprived Brits have seen him in. Sombati Diprom (Wongkamlao), Bati to his acquaintances, drives the Bangkok taxi graveyard shift. Hardly the rock star dream life, but one that seems fitting for a man who more often dreams of ballroom dancing. With the radio tuned permanently to a golden oldies station, Bati seems happy enough with his quiet route allowing him time to dawdle, daydream and, um, dilate? Damn my alliteration addiction. His only outlet appears to be writing letters to one of the radio DJs, bemoaning yet accepting his fate as a lonely guy, eating alone and sleeping alone.
This languid melancholy is broken after picking up a troupe of ‘masseurs’, the sort who ensure a ‘happy ending’, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. While many are obnoxiously giggly, one seems as stoically out of place in the company as Bati feels in this world. Nual (Woranut Wongsawan) turns out to be another one of those reliably common character stereotypes, the Tart with a Heart. Striking up a perhaps slightly too unlikely friendship with Bati, it’s not long before Bati has started to work Nual into his daydream recreations of the radio soaps he listens to. Life, however, has an unfortunate habit of getting in the way of things running smoothly, and coupled with Bati’s reluctance to be dragged into this uncouth modern age of bleeping gadgets and flashing lights there’s more than enough barriers to anything more than friendship before a rich client of Nual’s throws temptation her way.
For the most part, Midnight My Love is a joy to behold, and not just as a deeply pretty Bangkok-by-night picture postcard. Wongkamlao’s restrained, lovably simple performance and quiet bearing is quite unlike anything yet seen from him and extremely effective. The lapses into Bati’s daydreams, the radio plays acted out by Wongkamlao and Wongsawan as expressions of their unspoken feelings may reek of gimmickry, but it’s an mightily impressive one. The lapses into the glorious Technicolor, squashed aspect ration and overwrought, overacted emotion provide a welcome counterpoint to the sedately natured reality that the leads find themselves in, at the same time serving the more useful function of being hilarious.
In fact, this was shaping up to be the most interesting and enjoyable film of this years Edinburgh International Film Festival until the final reels kick in, at which point things go downhill swiftly. Degenerating into a mushy mess of bizarre symbolism and soggy melodrama, it breaks completely with the homely mood it had been so lovingly and tenderly maintaining before bolting on the obligatory happy ending, this time nothing to do with masseurs. It’s far from enough to ruin the film, but it’s something of a pity that it couldn’t be as consistently likable all the way throughout.
Still, it is likable. More so than the bulk of films I’ve seen this year, as well as being more coherently stylised and respectfully crafted. Proof, if proof were needed, that there’s more to latter day Thai cinema than Tony Jaa elbowing people in the head. Tracking this will doubtlessly be less than easy, but for once it’s worth doing.