Tropical Malady

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Movie Review by Neils Hesse

Starring: Banlop Lomnoi, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Huai Dessom, Sirivech Jareonchon

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Occasionally a movie comes along that is surprisingly praised by film critics but abhorred by the general film going public and this just happens to be one of them. Some have referred to it as sensory cinema in the vein of APOCALYPSE NOW. Sacrilege I say, sacrilege!

Now, now, before you accuse me of not being fair please read on and judge for yourselves.

Keng, a soldier in Thailand falls in love with Tong, a young man living in a village. For the first half of the film we are treated to scenes of the two of them basically spending time with one another. Then there is a brief scene concerning a local folk tale about a powerful shaman (witchdoctor), who could change into various animals, using his powers to terrorise and play tricks on villagers. When Tong, the soldier’s young lover, mysteriously goes missing at the same time that some livestock has been taken away by a big ferocious animal from the surrounding jungle, Keng decides to go into the jungle to find out what has happened to his loved one.

Straight away the first problem is the length of the film. Clocking in at just under 2 hours it is way too long for what it is, and just what is it? Well it is sensory cinema, similar to say DEATH IN VENICE with Dirk Bogarde, in that it relies more on visuals than dialogue, story or character development. Despite one fantastic scene that has the soldier fumbling to switch on his flashlight in the jungle only to turn it on and see a tiger calmly standing on a branch of a big tree above him and staring right at him, the rest of the so called sensory experience is, other than the obviously interesting Thai jungle where the film was shot on location, rather bland and that’s putting it lightly. Considering the length and apparent lack of content for the film, it would have probably worked much better as a ‘short’ of say 30 minutes. Perhaps additional concentration on the intriguing folklores, which eventually take centre stage anyway with the pursuit of the tiger spirit who is also the shaman, would have enhanced the film.

For fans of films like DEATH IN VENICE the whole apparent sensory experience might work, but on the whole it just won’t reach most people’s expectations. The title itself incorporates the word malady, which is defined as a disease or illness. I am assuming that this refers to what the soldier experiences in the jungle as he pursues the tiger spirit but even then this is an undoubtedly strange and in my opinion unsatisfying movie going experience.

1 out of 6 stars