Bangkok-born, U.S.-educated Aditya Assarat’s Wonderful Town is his fourth film and first feature, and although it frequently feels like the work of someone else—say, fellow Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul—it is an absorbing, powerful achievement. Quiet, moody, semi-lyrical, suspenseful, it is set in Takua Pa, a near ghost town in southern coastal Thailand; deaths and abandonments are the result of the 2004 tsunami. Ironically, the film begins with an overhead shot of placid waves; it will nearly end with a storm of human violence. But this itself may be a dreamed displacement of the tsunami.
The gentle opening waters suggest the unconscious, and the shot is indeed followed by Na’s waking up from sleep. Na is at her desk, her head on her arms on the desk; she might be a schoolgirl. But, instead, she is a grown woman, a college graduate, and the front desk belongs to the hotel that she and her brother, Wit, own and run. The hotel belonged to her parents; they are missing—one way or another, in all probability because of the tsunami. Almost everyone else, as I have said, is missing, too.
In any case, the sequence of water, Na’s sleep and her waking up suggest that the entire film may be Na’s dream. Writer-director in no way resolves this—nor is there any reason for him to do so, because either way the events that follow, which may or may not be real, express the real feelings of those devastated by the tsunami—feelings of disrupted and damaged lives, of loneliness, of abandonment by any cosmic order and the citizens of Bangkok.
Ton, an architect, is visiting for two months while overseeing a resort construction project; while staying at the hotel, he and Na slowly, carefully become lovers. They exhibit what other lovers do: terrible awkwardness and impossible grace. An expression on his face before the last time the couple make love suggests that Ton will abandon Na. It turns out that their whole relationship has unfolded in the shadow of Ton’s prior relationship with a woman in Bangkok, and now Ton has contacted her again.
At the last, we see Na trapped in her daily work at the hotel. Whether her recent past was any sort of reality, we find no grounds for believing that any hope lies ahead. Again, this may be vividly expressing how Na and other locals feel.
Anchalee Saisoontorn as Ton and Supphasit Kansen as Na both give marvelously sensitive performances.
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