One Take Only (2001)

Rating: C

Dir: Oxide Pang
Star: Pawarith Monkolpisit, Wanatchada Siwapornchai, Pawalit Mongkolpisit, Chalermporn Paprach
a.k.a. Som and Bank: Bangkok for Sale

Balancing style and substance is a tough task; for my money, Pang doesn’t quite get it right here, with style overshadowing substance for most of the film. That’s a shame, as the final third, where the story finally gets going, is effective, with one of the most mournful death scenes I’ve seen. Bank (Monkolpisit) is a low-level hustler, relying on minor drug deals for his living; he meets and falls in love with Som (Siwapornchai) who, unknown to Bank, is a hooker. When he finds out, he wants her to give up her job, and to fund their future, takes on the largest sale of his career.

No real surprise to discover that things don’t go quite as smoothly as Bank hopes. This is a somewhat thin story, even when told at less than ninety minutes, though Pang tries to jazz things up with a entire hamper of visual tricks. Some of these work nicely, such as Bank’s visions, which reflect reality less than his optimistic hopes for how things will work out. But others are an annoying distraction. There’s one sex scene filmed entirely in jerky slow-motion; it goes on about five times as long as is necessary, and is a good example of how, too often, these sequences bring the movie to a grinding halt. The actors are solid, both leads delivering sympathetic performances, a laudable feat given a pusher and a whore are not typically heroic characters.

However, it seems as if Pang’s interest is exploring cinema’s visual side, not the depths of the story-line or those who inhabit it. If you appreciate the work of Wong Kar-Wai, for example, you’ll probably enjoy this Thai take on Trainspotting, much more than if you prefer your films to be first and foremost script-oriented. [Incidentally, this hit trouble with Thai censors because of its “racy” nature – it’s hardly much by Western standards and, as Chris pointed out, ironic how Bangkok is notorious for live shows with a lot nastier stuff than you ever see here…]