Brilliantly conceived, The Love of Siam is a very different film in many respects. Most notably different is the length. At two and a half hours, it’s almost twice as long as most films in cinemas these days.
But there’s nothing wrong with a long film, as long as it’s something worth looking at, and The Love of Siam is most certainly that. The length means that most of the characters in this contemporary Bangkok drama are well developed, which is something else that sets this film apart from others.
Equal parts family drama and teen romance, the aspect that has people talking is a gay love story, albeit a squeaky clean one, full of the wild-eyed innocence of teenage puppy love. It just happens these pups are boys.
And, with a Catholic family at its centre, The Love of Siam is probably the first Thai Christmas movie, and was actually filmed nearly a year ago, to capture the actual lights and sounds of the festive season around Siam Square.
The Love of Siam is also a different kind of film for 26-year-old writer-director Matthew Chookiat Sakveerakul, who last year directed the mind-bendingly awesome (and gory) thriller 13 Beloved, and previously did the socially conscious ghost story Pisaj.
The tender friendship of the two boys, Tong and Mew, is established in a lengthy prologue. Tragedy strikes the family of Tong, when his older sister (Chermarn Boonyasak) disappears while on a northern trek. The loss drives a wedge between Tong’s mother (a relevatory Sinjai Plengpanich) and father (Songsit Rungnopakunsri), as the father turns to alcohol to drown his grief. Tong and his family then move away, leaving Tong’s friend, the musically gifted Mew, all alone.
Sparks fly when the boys are reunited in their university years, while hanging around in Siam Square. Mew (Witwisit Hirunwongkul) is the singer and songwriter for an up-and-coming pop band, and Tong (Mario Maurer) is dating a pretty girl named Donut (Aticha Pongsilpipat), whom he’s not really interested in.
Their reconnection takes on even more meaning when Mew’s band is assigned a manager, June. Also played by Chermarn Boonyasak (the ghost from Buppa Rahtree), June is a dead ringer for the long-lost sister Tang. Maybe she can draw Tong’s dad out of his drunken stupor? This bit of soap opera contrivance is handled so straightforwardly and beautifully, with subtle comic touches, that it seems natural.
Mew, meanwhile is struggling to write new songs, until he digs into his heart and comes up with a hit that is inspired by feelings for Tong that have been nurtured since boyhood.
Everyone it seems is rooting for these two boys to smooch and snuggle – the press preview audience was enthusiastically supportive. But Tong’s mum is devastated, wondering what she did to deserve the fate of a missing daughter, an alcoholic husband and now, a gay son.
The girls have less prominent roles than the film posters might lead audiences to believe. But a neighbour girl, Ling (Kanya Rattanapetch), is more central than the haughty Donut. Ling has a crush on Mew, helps Tong sort out his confused feelings.