Concrete Clouds (ภวังค์รัก, Lee Chatametikool, 2014)

Concrete CloudsI reviewed this flawed yet interesting film, Concrete Clouds, for UK Anime Network. Probably I think I liked it a bit more than the score suggests but it does have its problems. Also ’90s (or maybe ’80s?) Thai pop is kind of amazing.


Up to now Lee Chatametikool has been best known as the regular editor on the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee, Tropical Malady) but with Concrete Clouds he’s finally stepped out of the edit suite and behind the camera to direct his very first feature film. However, Concrete Clouds owes less to Apichatpong Weerasethakul or any of the other well known Thai directors he’s been working with over the last decade than it does to early period Tsai Ming-Liang and the Taiwanese new wave. A mood piece heavy on directorial flair but light on detail, Concrete Clouds never quite comes together but still manages to offer a few rewards for the patient viewer.

Set in 1997 just as the Asian Economic crisis begins to take hold, long time emigré Mutt (Ananda Everingham) gets a late night phone call from his high school age brother to say their father has just jumped off the roof. Mutt goes home for the first time in a long time aiming to lay a few ghosts – less that of his father than that of his teenage self and half forgotten love. Meanwhile, younger brother Nic has formed a tentative romance with a girl from the next building who appears to be living more or less alone and has just begun working in a hostess club. Just like his brother he’ll have to decide whether to abandon his love in Thailand to seek new dreams overseas or chase an ever elusive future in the land of his birth.

To be frank, the somewhat shocking and early death of the father retains little impact after the fact as neither of the now orphaned sons seems to dwell very long on the loss of their only parental figure and there’s no real soul searching over why he did what he did. The blueprints for new buildings he was looking at right before and the constant financial concern on the news screens seem to be evidence enough of his ultimate motives. Neither is much mention made of the absent mother who, one assumes, has been absent for a relatively long time. The age gap between the brothers also means that their relationship is not as close as you might assume brothers to be as Mutt must have left for America when Nic was little more than a toddler. Nevertheless, both boys are cast adrift by the older man’s decision, taken alone and with seemingly little concern for those around him.

The historical context is fairly key to the film though may be impenetrable for those less versed in recent history. In setting the story in 1997, the director intends both to imply that many of Thailand’s present social and economic problems stem back to the Asian Financial Crisis and the new Thai constitution which was created around that time but also to deal with the fragile nature of memory and our own tendencies to over romanticise our pasts by falling in love with a fantasy of our own creation. Mutt has dreamed of his high school girlfriend, Sai, ever since leaving her to go to college in America. He lives with a woman in New York but their relationship doesn’t seem particularly serious and she has not accompanied him to Thailand for his father’s funeral. Even though years have passed he’s remained faithful to the image of Sai he has in his mind and however much he tells himself nothing has changed it’s his own self created image that he’s wedded to, rather than the flesh and blood Sai who’s been busy getting on with her own life in the intervening ten years.

In a another cloud based film, Mikio Naruse’s Floating Clouds, the title refers to the the central characters who are unable to re-root themselves after the disruption caused to their lives firstly in failed Manchurian expedition and then by the after effects of the war. They float aimlessly trying to find something they can cling on to that will allow them to move forward with their lives and ultimately never find it. In Concrete Clouds it’s almost the opposite problem, the characters are weighed down by their dreams, almost crushed by them and unable to move. Their dreams will never lift off the ground because they can’t bear to let go of the past, of the people they once were and things they once thought they wanted.

The most notable element of Concrete Clouds is its unusual shooting style which incorporates everything from snatches of archival footage to long stretches of fantasy sequences played out as karaoke videos to late ‘90s Thai pop songs. The film has an interesting aesthetic which appropriately matches its melancholy and slightly wistful tone though it fails to capture the exact emotional ache that it seems to be going for. Ultimately its disparate elements never quite seem to coalesce into something more and though Concrete Clouds has plenty to admire it stops short of capturing the heart. Nevertheless it’s an impressive debut from Lee Chatametikool who has marked himself out as new talent to look out for in Thai cinema.


This is getting a release from Day For Night in the UK and here’s the trailer

And here’s a clip of one of the karaoke sequences

And another from the OST

(I don’t know any Thai at all, what is this music?)

Hi-So + Q&A, Curzon Renoir 1st March 2013

Hi-So 1

As the film begins, a bewildered young woman is being shown to her room by a strangely attentive hotel staff in what seems to be luxury Thai resort. She is there to visit her Thai boyfriend, recently returned from study abroad in America and now it seems the star of an upcoming motion picture. Ananda, born and bred in Thailand but brought up in an affluent, bilingual family converses with his girlfriend in English but with everyone else in Thai. He is obviously busy with film work and his girlfriend is largely left to her own devices in the otherwise entirely empty hotel. As time moves on the geographical shift seems to have exposed the cracks in the couple’s relationship – the crew complain about Americanisms creeping into Ananda’s on screen performance and his girlfriend soon gets bored of all the attention that goes with dating a film star. It soon becomes obvious that she’s in the way, a distraction and unwelcome intrusion of the outside into Ananda’s life in Thailand.

Soon after she returns home the film seems to jump on a few months and Ananda is now living in an apartment in Bangkok with a woman from the PR company. Although the couple seem happy, or at least happier, Ananda still seems restless – perhaps more so now that his film work is finished leaving him with little else to do. Evidently Ananda’s family were fairly wealthy – the apartment the two share is one of many in a previously luxury but ‘under renovation’ apartment block owned by Ananda’s often absent mother.

In telling episodes of symmetry, Ananda never really seems to fit in anywhere. Constantly at odds with himself he seems to be a Thai in Thailand and an American in America. Whilst filming he rejects his American girlfriend leaving her forced to alleviate her isolation by inviting herself to a hotel employee’s birthday party where she can’t communicate because she doesn’t speak Thai and the hotel employees only have basic English skills. Moving forward, where it seems Ananda might have become reconciled to his life in Thailand with May, a visit from his American university friends leaves May equally isolated and sidelined as Ananda parties American style with his college buddies. Whilst in ‘Thai’ mode, Ananda seems like a quiet, respectable and respectful young man but with his American friends he’s loud and energetic, youthful and extroverted.

It’s very clear there are two Anandas each in constant struggle with the other. A privileged upbringing rich in overseas influence and an extended period abroad have led to an intense feeling of disconnection with his native culture, yet once abroad Ananda is Thai and forever a foreigner. His inability to be more than one thing at once, to be a complete person at any one moment seems to be tearing his life apart. In unwatched moments he appears intensely melancholic, frustrated and more than a little lost. He drifts from one thing to another, not really doing anything or taking anything seriously enough to fully commit to it.

Hi-So, short for High Society – the slightly aimless world in which Ananda and many others like him are living, is a very interesting film about the crushing ennui of the modern, monied man. Though it touches briefly on the collective trauma of the tsunami and the country’s rapid economic growth, this is very much a film about one man’s cultural confusion and ultimately how it’s left him feeling even as an outsider to himself. Undoubtedly this is one of those films where some will say that nothing really happens and others will reply that’s because everything is happening but for those willing to look deep enough Hi-So is certainly worthy of attention.