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2004.05.31

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Alexis

i saw last life in the universe on dvd and liked it a lot. i interviewed the scriptwriter prabda yoon(https://film.indiefilipino.com/item.php?id=91), but this was before i had seen the film, so the interview is not as detailed in regard to last life in the universe as i would have liked. prabda is also the writer of pen-ek's next film "invisible waves" to be shot by chris doyle as well.

i had read and heard so much about the film before going on, and was so excited to see it, that upon immediate viewing it seemed underwhelming. but it's stayed with me since then: the images, the feelings, the mood, and i think it's hovering around the top of my list as well.

Filmbrain

Nice interview -- thanks for the link.

The bit about Chris Doyle is particularly interesting, especially considering how much Doyle took credit for during the Q&A at the Tribeca Film Festival. Check out the discussion thread on this post.

Have you seen 6ixtynin9? I've been trying to locate it, but a DVD doesn't seem to be available.

Brian

Beautiful film. Confirms Pen-ek as one of my favorite directors, Thai or otherwise, working right now. Monrak Transistor was only ok imho, but do try to seek out 6ixtynin9. I saw it on VHS in Thailand. I think it has been released on VCD and DVD in Hong Kong and perhaps Thailand as well, but it may be cut and/or OOP.

One question: you refer to Noi as a prostitute, but I think the film is ambiguous on that point. What do you think?

Alexis

I read the discussion on that post. That is interesting. Maybe Ratanaruang didn't have a problem with the things Doyle said?

I recently attended a conference on Southeast Asian cinemas in Singapore, and met Thai filmmaker/producer Mingmongkol Sonakul, who produced the first film of Apichapong (dir of Tropical Malady) Wersethakul-- "Mysterious Objects at Noon", and directed the film "I-San Special". She informed me that she will be producing (by this I assume she means she will be one of the producers, as it looks to be a co-production) of Pen-Ek's next film "Invisible Waves", and said that Doyle and Prabda Yoon would again be on board for this project..

I missed "6ixtynin9" when it screened at the CineManila International Film Festival (a surprisingly great festival held here in Manila, Philippines, where I live). I have seen Mon-rak Transistor a good three times and I like it quite much. Pen-Ek is crazy. Mon-rak is a bit all over the place in terms of focus, but it's a very charming film and the lead actor is very charismatic. I read the discussion in your earlier post that you bought a DVD of Mon-rak; have you watched it?

FIlmbrain

Brian --

I'm really glad you brought that point up.

On the second viewing, I noticed that when Kenji asks her what she's going to do in Japan she says "same work I do here", yet when we see her in Japan she's a waitress. Strange.

Yet it seems that the guy who's phoning her is a pimp. I've asked friends about this, and they all thought she was a prostitute. That, plus EVERY review describes her that way -- maybe there were some press materials we didn't see?

Perhaps she truly fell in love with Kenji and then decided against being a prostitute?

I'm still not convinced 100% -- anybody else have thoughts on this?

FIlmbrain

Still haven't watched Mon-rak yet -- my pile of unwatched DVD's is nearing the five feet mark. Ugh.

Brian L

Hi--I saw the film when it came out in the theaters here (Bangkok). I've seen it at least 5 times and do agree that new things come to the fore each time I view it. My take on various aspects (incl. the ending) change with each viewing.

It's a truly remarkable film that I highly recommend!

That said, the comments about Noi being a "Thai bar girl" are silly and misleading. Are Thai women that have abusive boyfriends or that work as waitresses, etc "prostitutes"? If people pay attention to the film they'll see that NIT (not NOI) works in a Japanese-only cocktail lounge where she "entertains" drunk, lonely Japanese expats and tourists. NOI's boyfriend in the film is exactly that, not a pimp.

"Sinitta Boonyasak is so perfect that it's hard to believe this is her first film"

She's been in countless Thai soap operas--it's not her first on-camera appearance. And her sister in the film (played by her real life sister!) is a very famous actress in Thailand.

I can't wait to see the next Pen-ek film! I met Prabda Yoon a couple months ago (my wife is translating his work into English), but I forgot to ask him about "Last Life's" ending! I doubt if he would've told me anyway...

I also met Doyle who mentioned it was one of the best films he's ever worked on. He's very nice in person, but when he gets in front of a crowd he seems like a real ***hole.

Filmbrain

Brian -- thanks for bringing this up. Having watched the film about eight times now, I'm still not sure if Noi is meant to be a prostitute. I sort of believe it was purposely left a bit vague. When Kenji asks her what she'll do in Japan, her answer is "same work as here" -- which I think leads most people to believe she's a prostitute -- certainly there's no indication that she works as a waitress. Yet everybody I asked who saw the film insisted that she was a prostitute.

Alexis

Brian! That's great to hear about Prabda's work being translated into English. I would be indebted if you could inform us (or me) when your wife has completed the translation and when you expect the work to be released.

Filmbrain-- the latest issue of Cinema Scope, the lovely Canadian magazine, has an interview with Doyle. Here's an excert about working with Pen-Ek:

Cinema Scope: You don't simply impose your "Wong Kar-wai style" on, say, last Life in the Universe or Hero. Life is calm and quiet, while Hero is very kinetic. How do you adapt to different director's needs?

Doyle: I'm very proud that young directors want to work with me. I just started shooting a film with Fruit Chan, who is much more local style, more "street." And the producer said, Chris is going to give you 50 things and only one is useful. He's right. But which do you choose? I give the director's choices. I can only trust the people I work with, which means that, hopefully, a Fruit Chan film will be a Fruit Chan film, even if I'm shooting it. But it will be a Fruit Chan and Chris Doyle film. And with a Wong Kar-wai film I know the images are different if I'm not there. I can tell you exactly which images are someone else made. Not out of hubris or jealousy, it's just that it's not the same. The point is the encounter. Whether it's a good meal, good sex, a walk on the beach, it's the same thing: it will be informed by who we are. I am most valuable as a collaborator. I'm so fucking proud that young filmmakers trust me, that they don't think I'm going to overwhelm them. They know I'm going to bring something. With Pen-ek's film, after spending a few days on location, I could say what I actually thought, because we developed trust. It was fucking beautiful. You could see that this is going to be a great film, that we'd be making films together forever. I just had this revelation. I mean, this or that might be shit, the dialogue might be off, but it'll work out. It's actually going someplace."

garfield

The Osaka scene with Noi was just a figment of Kenji's imagination as he was puffing on a cigarette while in detention. The camera returns to his interrogation room after the Osaka scene where he imagined himself reuniting with Noi as shown by the presence of his bag and book at Noi's apartment signifying his arrival. That Noi was shown working as a waitress is part of how Kenji prefers to see the good that is in her despite the stark reality of her trade. Someone remiss in her house duties metamorphoses into a table cleaning waitress? Come on.

filmfan

I recently saw Last Life here at the Melbourne International Film Festival and absolutely loved it. I've commented on the issue of who influences the creative result but on the topic of Noi's mode of employ:

I didn't think that Noi was a prostitute at all. Agreed, it was ambiguous as to what she did as she didn't say as much when asked, but I took it that her sister worked as a 'hostess' but she had another job. I also saw her boyfriend as simply a violent and controlling arsehole rather than a pimp.

That was on a single viewing and my view could change if I were to rewatch it with this question in mind. It didn't occur to me that she was a prostitute on first viewing, though.

Matt

Just saw this last night. It's a wonderful movie. Thanks for the advance word on it.

I have to admit, my initial reading of a key character detail was different. I never believed Kenji was a former yakuza. I thought the few glimpses of the back tattoo were meant to suggest the way he embodied certain aspects of his dead brother much as Noi "becomes" Nid. I would have to see the movie again to confirm my suspicion that the tattoo we see on his brother's back is identical.

Also, if he were a yakuza, wouldn't he have killed the yakuza trio at the end? Perhaps he does, as the window escape seems implausible. And the flushing of the toilet suggests another illogical non-sequitur. (I did like how this seemed to reference a similar scene in "Pulp Fiction" without the payoff.)

I guess it really doesn't matter what the yakuza plotline is supposed to mean as the film operates in a hyperreal dream logic.

Also, for my money, the scene where Noi commands Kenji into the tub is one of the sexiest in memory.

Again, I wondered if we should infer this leads to sex.

The fact that I want to know, is for once, a pleasant curiosity and not the fault of narrative incoherence or laziness.

Filmbrain

Matt -- regarding your last sentence: Judging by the Q&A session I saw with the director (and Chris Doyle), I suspect the latter.

nanno

I've come across this page by accident and I'm very excited to hear your discussions of this film. I have the DVD which is a Thai version and I really feel that I'm missing out on that communication in 3rd language thing.
Being Thai myself I feel that 'Noi' doesn't come across as a prostitute at all. I read your discussion and feel that there's a sort of cultural boundaries when you watch films through the eyes of other culture. Sometimes meanings are so engrained in little things. Then again I might be completely wrong but I don't think the prostitute point is significant to Prabda or Pen-ek.

Prabda seems to enjoy complexity of character and chracter driven stories. I enjoy his short work in "Probability" very much. There is a contradcition about them in which I feel that most of them are observational pieces.... personal yet somewhat objective. However, they're not emotive. He doesn't swept you with emotions but i'm not sure but after reading stories after stories I felt that something was missing. Maybe it's just his tyle to make you feel like you're watching these people so so close you're actually not in their skin. Anyhow what was missing I have found it in this film. I'm not sure if it's Pen-ek's element that brough it out. I actully can't put into words what I'm trying to describe. So I apologise if this paragraph has wasted yr time.

Pen-ek enjoys non acting actors/actresses. He like them to play themselves. The two sisters are real sisters and they really do come across as themselves. He said it himself about the main chharacters in 'MonRak' or the main girl in 'sixty9'

However, I do find those Yakuza characters very shallow. Pen-ek had similar characters in sixty9 also. Back to the cultural thing a bit, the joke which the Yakuza (which comes to kill Kenji)
says to the japanese lady at the airport
is a Thai sense of humor. (a sort of thing Pen0ek would do in his TV ads - he's also an advertising art director if you don't already know)

This is getting long. I really though I had nothing to sayd.

Filmbrain I also enjoyed that interview you did with Prabda very much.

nannao

Forgot to say that it's a beautiful film

Beautiful slow pace. I love the contemplativeness which reminds me of Transcendental style in films of old school directors like Ozu or Tarkovsky.

Love the fluid camera movement. I notice a lot of steady cam floaty feel. The rhythm of visuals and soundtrack playing together even touch on a feeling of something ethereal. dark and etheral. very beautiful

after all that I'm still not fully convinced with the characters' connection. Have to watch it again.

keiko

being a thai myself i watched it only twice but i have read the book that told the story of the film.
the story was originally called 'i am home'.
actually Noi are prostitutes and her boyfriend is a pimp and thai yakuza. come on. it's just real to easily notice. but like you said, it doesn't matter if noi is a protitute. Prabda focus on the complexity of the character's mind.

faozan rizal

The film is remaind me to HHH long take, but the cinematography in this film is remarkable,Doyle is out from Kar Wai style.and thats very nice because the film has its own characters.

congratulation Pen !

Simone

I started an Orkut community on "Last life in the universe" and it's described precisely as "what Lost in Translation tried to be" (and failed). People I know are obsessed about that movie (and Scarlett Johanssen/Bill Murray/Sofia Coppolla for that matter) while I left the theatre feeling kind of "oh, not bad".
Funny enough, when I watched "Last life in the universe" for the first time, I felt overwhelmed. I had to see it again. It was the first film I watched at 2004 Rio Film Festival and no other I saw that year surpassed it in my preference.
Only in the third viewing I understood the "title half-an-hour into the film" thing. And now that I can understand some Japanese, the basic sentences on Noi's Japanese-learning tape get even funnier as a background. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the impression that she lives on a former sugar cane farm (that her parents died/eloped leaving their 70's clothes and that her financial situation is no good seems clear enough). Those people who appear singing the Thai National Anthem are farm employees or something.
People often accuse me of praising obscure, alternative films just to show off how enlightned I am (guess I didn't even spell that damn word right). But it seems to me that some pieces of culture/art - films, music, books - aren't for anyone. They have the amazing gift of speaking to people as different as me, Brazilian, 23-old, you (hey, I didn't bother researching), and whoever took the trouble to leave a comment.

Simone

Oh, now I've read the comments. Has anyone seen the film "Stratosphere girl"? I think Angela has a similar "job" than Nid has. Nid works as a semi-prostitute. She has to please lonely Japanese men, maybe singing karaoke, drinking, smiling and looking cute in that bunny-schoolgirl outfit - not necessarily to sleep with them. You see, in that bar, bunny-schoolgirls beside the yakuza while they talk. Noi seems too old to do that kind of job; she whether plays the same role in more fatale fashion or is a full-time prostitute with her boyfriend as a pimp.
About Kenji, I think Yakuza, like many mobs, has a strong family trait. So he's the "weird brother" who likes to read, not to kill or do dirty jobs; a kind of a "white sheep". Since they can't get rid of him, maybe he's been "shipped" to Thailand to stay off trouble and provide a safe HQ to his kin (hosting his brother and other yakuza).

kennard early

I have seen the film six times now- having lived in the Philippines, Nid is most likely a "GRO" Guest Relations Officer...ie, bar girl - the prostution aspect of the job is left up to the individual girl's choice- No one seems to feel that Noi may have quit a waitress job earlier, anticipating her move to Japan. I feel Kenji was also yakuza ( tattoo ) and maybe was in hiding from the yakuza boss in Japan for some reason. I would like to hear other's opinions as to the end- of the film- what may separate a look into the future from a fantasy, might be : was the other girl in the apartment with Noi in Japan ( never see her face ) supposed to be a roommate....or was it meant to be Nid?

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