Ploy (Pen-ek Ratanaruang, 2007)
Pen-ek Ratanaruang's latest, Ploy, is quite a beautiful film. It's a marital thriller mostly set in a Phuket hotel where restaurant owner Wit (Pornwut Sarasin) adopts nineteen year old Ploy (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk) for a few hours. Ploy's invasion of the married couple's hotel room arouses feelings of suspicion and jealousy for Wit's wife Dang (Lalita Panyopas).
The film's mood is sleepy, wherein the characters are indefinitely in a state of being half-awake and half-asleep (there's a mighty big difference, I believe). The couple arrives in Phuket from a twenty hour flight. They're in that blurred zone of jet lags and lazy early mornings, forcing Wit to spend a moment in the hotel bar where he catches up with sleep-deprived Ploy, waiting for her Swedish mother while listening to quirky Thai reggae. They prolong that atmosphere of sleeplessness with idle chat and cups of coffee, before going up to their room; casually being greeted by a random hotel maid (Phorntip Papanai), who becomes the object of an erotic dream along with the bartender (Ananda Everingham).
Ratanaruang deftly pursues this atmosphere of half-consciousness wherein dreams have the palpable quality of reality, and reality has the surreal mood of dreams. There's a very thin filament that would separate sleep and consciousness; further marred by the gravity of emotions imputed to Ploy's invasion of that marital harmony. The difference between half-awake and half-asleep divides the film into two parts: pre and post marital quarrel (wherein Dang leaves the hotel and becomes victim to a crime). Ratanaruang gets the details right: the way light is an annoyance when one is half-awake, and the way light urges one to consciousness in a phase of half-asleep.
Ratanaruang plays the differences with utmost details and keeps the daydream fantasy as hypnotizing --- the little portion of uncovered window that allows the morning light to invade the sleep-deprived wife, the vodka-drowned coffee that Dang drinks in the hotel lobby, the haziness and laziness that accompanies the lack of mental, physical, moral and emotional alertness of the three characters. That way, he infects his audience with the same contemplative mood (well enough to make impatient viewers sleep), wherein lapses in logic and quick jumps to conclusions (which are the obvious criticisms to this slow yet perceptive Ratanaruang thriller) should be appropriate in ways that would be impossible in total consciousness.
It's gorgeously photographed (by Chankit Chamnivikaipong, Ratanaruang's cinematographer in his earlier works like Fun Bar Karaoke (1997), 6ixtynin9 (1999), and Mon-rak Transistor (2001); Ratanaruang previously worked with Christopher Doyle in Last Life in the Universe (2003), and Invisible Waves (2006)). It's not only gorgeous, but very intelligent. Ratanaruang has a gift for visual humor --- the way he would start a shot with the naked calves of Wit and Ploy (using such cliche to give the presumption of consummated infidelity) only to reveal that they are fully dressed; or the way we would see a man (Thaksakorn Pradapphongsa) observing Dang while out of focus, before we become aware that the man turns out to be a bigger part of the story than he was introduced to be.
Ploy is a film that is engineered with exhilarating precision. Its dreamy feel and rhythm which delightfully hopscotches from dream to life to nightmare and back (there's a lovely musical interlude that concludes the hotel-bound hallucination), keeps the relaxed pace bearable, if not totally engrossing. Ratanaruang is gearing up to become one of the most interesting filmmakers from the region.