Go with a smile!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I went out with Nat and (let’s call him Mr Go). We were trying to decide what shows to watch for the Singapore Film Festival. Mr Go wanted to watch a series of UK film shorts, but together we overruled him.

We ended up watching Lukas Moodyson’s “Mammoth”. I remembered that he made a trio of films 10 years ago which were very widely hailed. First is “Show Me Love / Fucking Amal” which everybody likes. The serious film critics like it because the 2 main characters are very lovable, and horny guys like it because the 2 main characters are physically attractive lesbians. As a horny male film critic I loved it. The second was “Together” which I hadn’t watched. The third was “Lilya 4-ever” and I have a copy lying around at home which I hadn’t watched.

I liked “Mammoth” because it was well acted. Some people think that the script was clichéd and put together ideas from other movies. I don’t know. The plot is classic white man’s guilt. A husband and wife live in a penthouse in Manhattan (which means they’re ridiculously rich). The husband is a founder of a wildly successful internet start-up. He’s going to Thailand with his CEO to seal a deal. His wife is a surgeon who works crazy hours, and therefore she leaves their daughter in the care of a Filipino maid. (They’re everywhere in Singapore and Hong Kong but I think they must be extremely expensive in NYC). The maid leaves behind her 2 kids back in the Philippines, and they suffer, and she suffers. At the same time, the maid forms an attachment to the daughter that becomes stronger than the attachment to the mother.

When the guy goes to Bangkok, he gets bored because he’s a farang who stays alone in his penthouse suite and doesn’t get out much. That’s the problem with being a nerd. Never mind that when I was in Bangkok that place was developed enough that there are malls everywhere, and that it’s beginning to look like what Singapore was like in the 70s. The main issue is that he’s a nerd, albeit a very handsome one (yeh I know that’s stupid but this is a movie). He ends up in a nightclub and both his sexual desire and his liberal guilt are aroused when he finds out that the small rooms at the back of the nightclub are not toilets but brothel chambers. An impossibly good looking chick wants to fuck him but he gives her a lot of money and tells her to take no pay leave for a couple of nights so that she “doesn’t have to do this”. In the end, she ends up being his girlfriend for about a week, and then the inevitable happens – sexual tension takes over, he fucks and runs because guys can’t help being cads no matter how hard they try. He gives her a few valuable items and briefly considers coming back to Thailand to become Mother Theresa.

As is the case with a lot of Moodysson films, nobody is the bad guy. The couple are doing the best they can. After all, the mother is a surgeon, and she’s in a noble profession. But there is a lot of loneliness in this film, a lot of being apart from your loved ones, and everybody is screwing each other up, like this is a circle of fuck. Case in point, the mother is a surgeon in a hospital, because some parts of NYC are fucked up and people routinely get shot at. Because of her shitty hours (I know people who are surgeons and the hours are shitty. I know about the pagers, the locker ante-rooms, the snatched naps and everything.) she needs to hire a maid and therefore tear the poor maid away from her homeland. Because of the lack of parental guidance, something bad happens and the maid has to rush home to be by the side of her poor kid who is in hospital and probably giving some Filipino surgeon some shit and working stupid hours. (Unsurprisingly, since this is a white guilt movie, the asshole who put the boy in hospital is a white man)

(There is a big hole in the plot. Some Filipino kid wanders off to a bad part of town in the middle of the night. Now that is a stupid thing to do, even for a kid. Are we to believe that a kid would do that, in spite of being warned not to do so? )

I suppose, even when we account for all these flaws, this is a good movie, still worth watching, although hardly essential. As stated before, I’m past the point where a really good movie has the ability to give me an orgasm.

The critics were lukewarm on this movie. Some have criticised this movie as being overly critical of globalisation. But I think, as much as the maid suffered from being away from her kids, her kids still had grandma, and are hardly orphans. They are hardly the street urchins in the city centre. It is a balanced and realistic viewpoint. It’s unfair that the white girl gets 2 mothers and the Filipino kids get none, but they’re hardly the wretched of the earth. The Thai prostitutes get fucked, in more ways than one. But the Thailand I saw when I went there around 4-5 years ago was a dynamic place where people have the energy and ability to get themselves ahead. There is a lot of unfairness but everybody turns out a little better because of the transactions that they make. Everybody loses something and gains something else. People are usually smart enough to trade up. The poor boy who wins the Darwin awards, well Darwin awards are for stupendeously stupid things. Stupid acts usually end up in tragedy. Stupidity and not globalisation was responsible for the tragedy at the end.

I notice that a lot of indie movies have long periods of people being bored, looking out of the window, and being pensive in a meaningful way. This is fucking bullshit. I didn’t go to the cinema in order to get bored. So why do they do this? One explanation is that indie movies are on a tight budget, and it’s always easier to shoot characters in contemplative meditation. It makes the film more “meaningful”, more likely to get critically acclaimed, and – most importantly – less hectic to shoot. But your audience will get bored and pissed off.

A lot of films tend to be about globalisation these days. But a lot of this “globalisation” tends to be about the interior of a hotel or something like this. When a white man makes a film about another country, it is very difficult. He only manages to shoot films about other white men, struggling to make it in a strange place. The thing about Lukas Moodysson in this film is that everywhere is a foreign place. NYC is foreign, the Philippines is foreign, and Bangkok is foreign. The film fails to capture the local flavours of the surroundings. I only partially liked “Lost in Translation” because I didn’t think it captured the real Japan. It only captured what expats saw of it, which is being holed up in a bunker that disguises itself as a 5 star hotel. That being said, it is very difficult to dislike any film which has the “Lip my stockings” scene.

I don’t know much about the Philippines. But Bangkok seems like a caricature of what you see on tourist brochures. Then where is the going to stinky fish markets? What about chatuchak market? What about the regular shopping malls that sprout up like mushrooms? What about the red shirts? What about the floating market? How the fuck can you feel bored when you are in Bangkok, what the fuck is this? The Thailand tourism commission has the right to sue this film upside down for libel.

I’d venture to say that much great film making is local. Much of what makes a film great is authenticity. You can fake authenticity in period dramas, since nobody is there to tell you whether things feel out of place.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

been a while..
you've revived your blog?

- MY

4:20 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Well - they din tell you? I've been blogging at revolution-no-nine.blogspot.com. It's like sieteocho is Mecca and revolution9 is Medina. (this is part of Islam mythology).

11:41 PM


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