The Love of Siam (Chukiat Sakveerakul, 2007)
Thai Title: Rak haeng Siam
To label Chukiat Sakveerakul's The Love of Siam as simply a gay teen romance is to misjudge its power and intention. Within the two and a half hour running time (the director's cut is reportedly four hours long) of the film, Sakveerakul essays not only the two young leads' reunion and inevitable attraction but also a family's slow and painful road to accepting a long-delayed reality. I would like to think that The Love of Siam, above everything else, seeks to reaffirm the life-affirming values of loving and being loved without sacrificing the portrayal of the very palpable pain that usually accompanies the emotion.
The twenty-minute prologue tracks the histories of young Mew (Arthit Niyomkul) and Tong (Jirayu La-ongmanee), who are both schoolmates and neighbors. They form a very close friendship which was abruptly ended when Tong's family had to move out when Tang (Laila Boonyasuk), Tong's elder sister, went missing during a trip in Chiang Mai, causing the family tremendous and irreparable sorrow. Years later, Mew (Witwisit Hirunwongkul), lead singer and composer for an up and coming boy band, again crosses path with Tong (Mario Maurer), who is struggling at home with his domineering mother (Sinjai Plengpanich) and alcoholic father (Songsit Rungnopakunsri). The two reconnect and inevitably fall for each other, disrupting whatever peace they have grown accustomed to.
To make matters more complicated, Mew's Chinese neighbor Ying (Kanya Rattanapetch) is hopelessly in love with Mew, not knowing of his homosexual tendencies. On the other hand, Tong is currently dating Donut (Aticha Pongsilpipat), presumably not knowing of his own homosexual tendencies too. Tong's family, more specifically the father who's been spending days and nights drinking, is still suffering from the loss of Tang. June (also played by Boonyasuk), Mew's band manager who looks a lot like Tang, is then recruited to pose as the long lost daughter, momentarily easing the father of his staggered pains.
The Siam in the title refers to Siam Square, a shopping district in Bangkok where most teens hang out to shop, dine, meet, and have fun. Siam Square, in the eyes of the Bangkok youth, has become both the place for welcomes and farewells, of declarations of love and hurtful break-ups, of chance encounters and scheduled meetings. In the film, the popular venue is not only the setting for Mew and Tong's reunion and the numerous other events in the story but it also represents the unpredictability of the many facets of love which the film so intricately paints. While Siam Square or any other shopping mecca are ordinarily thought of as accessories to the bastardization of love and romance because it commonly equates blatant commercialism with the love's outward depictions like dating, gift-giving, and hanging out, The Love of Siam uses that very element to depict love's many wanderings and permutations. Underneath the glow of the traditionally amiable romance, The Love of Siam strives to say something more about the act of loving, whether romantically or familial: that it is more a nebulous network-like journey to maintain hope than a straight path to the assumed happy ending.
In fact, The Love of Siam ends without any of its characters fulfilling the traditional conclusions of a love story. There are no happily-ever-afters or expected closures. Instead, the film ends with a mere spark of hope. That hope that closes the film actually opens up million of possibilities for its characters, as numerous as the countless fortuitous encounters in Siam Square that initiate relationships between strangers or abruptly conclude long-standing affairs all within the fateful movement of time. Sakveerakul drafts a bittersweet ode to the complexities of loving, which commercial cinema has tended to avoid throughout the years. What he exclaims in The Love of Siam is that daringly traversing outside the common simplicities of love is far more gratifying than safely assuming formula.
Through the interconnected lives of two boys who are on the verge of self-awareness amidst their own individual conflicts and the people surrounding them, Sakveerakul notes that love survives notwithstanding the dilemmas that pervade the world. As Ying translates from a Chinese song, "as long as there is love, there is hope." Corny as it sounds, the Bangkok of The Love of Siam thrives on that noble aspiration, without knowing that it does so.