A teenage boy is lying on his bedroom floor. He does not seem conscious, but his eyes are open. His family manages to break through the locked door, carry him to the car, and take him to a hospital. His mother tells one of his sisters that he will be okay, but she is uncertain. How did this happen?
Free on Amazon Prime. Approximately 135 minutes.
Suwanni remembers the birth of her son, Poo. Poo? Okay, I am spelling it Pu from now on. She remembers the birth of her son, Pu. She is overjoyed, but the first thing that her husband says once the nurse leaves is that the day is the 13th of Friday, which she immediately dismisses as Western superstition. She then remembers when Pu is slightly older, having stolen a doll belonging to one of his younger sisters and running off with it. She remembers fighting with her husband about infidelity. She remembers her husband destroying Pu’s…yarn-can toy…and then calling Pu an unlucky bastard when she finally decides to run away with the kids.
And now the story begins.
Pu is teenager now, buying a pack of cigarettes from a street vendor and then running off when the student police catch them smoking. He is a…not very studious student, with dreams of becoming a guitarist like Jimi Hendrix. He lives with Suwanni in an apartment above a bookstore, but that may change if his mother’s new project goes through. That, however, requires her to go abroad in order to…collect experiences for her novel. So Pu and his sisters will have to go live with someone else for the time being. Pu says that he can stay in the apartment, but she shuts that down.
So, she leaves and Pu stays with his grandparents. Every day he goes off to school…well, he goes to school, but he only sometimes goes inside. Other times, he just meets up with his friends and goes elsewhere to smoke. But his mother returns to take him and his three sisters to a brand new house. Of course, it is not fully bought off, so she reminds the kids to do something other than her line of work. So, not the arts.
A man named Run has arrived. A family friend, though he has not seen the kids in years. And goddamn does he look like my father looked back when he had hair. Uh…anyways, everyone is happy to have him visit. Except he is not visiting. He is staying. Suwanni and the girls are happy about this. Pu is less so. Run notices and tells her about Suwanni later, but she denies it. She wants to rekindle what she and Run had in Italy. He is now part of the family and that is that.
The next day, Pu skips school to go see his father, who is an art teacher at a university or something. He wonders if Pu came to as for money and is more focused on painting this picture. Pu tells him of Run coming to stay, but his father responds just talking about the art of painting. Maybe he was trying to wrap his response in a painting metaphor, but I am sure that Pu did not understand it; I certainly did not.
Pu invites some of his friends to the house to smoke, to the annoyance of his sisters. Then they steal Suwanni’s car (not being subtle about it either) to take to a rock dance club. His friends go dance with some girls while he hangs back at the bar. One girl starts flirting with him and hands him some pills before they go to the dancefloor.
Run eventually finds Pu and tries to take him home. Pu rebuffs him, saying that he is not Pu’s father and that his mother just sent him there because she wants her car back. He says that no one loves him, throws the car keys on the street, and walks back into the club.
Run recounts the encounter to Suwanni later on. She does not understand why Pu would claim that she does not love him. She rejects Run’s theory that it is because of his presence, saying that Run is just the spark to his temper. She has done everything for him. Perhaps it is her work taking her away from him. Whatever it is, she can no longer understand what is going on with him. Maybe she is just not suited to raise a boy. Perhaps Run could step in as a father figure. Of course, Run still thinks that Pu views him as an interloper, so trying to act like a father would backfire. When they hear sounds that indicate that Pu has finally returned, Suwanni tries to go give him a piece of her mind. Run says that Pu is a teenager and not in the mood for whatever she has to say, that Pu got his stubbornness from her.
Suwanni does eventually go to talk to him only to find that he has brought the girl from the club home with him. Suwanni yells at him for his drinking, smoking, and now sneaking a girl home. She accuses him of endangering his sisters by turning the house into a brothel, to which he responds with insinuating that she already did that by allowing Run to stay. She smacks Pu and he runs off with the girl. They meet up with some of his friends where they get high and talk about how their parents are all messed up. One of Pu’s friends gets upset at all of the hard drugs being so casually used and leaves. But the Pu stays. Someone hands him a cigarette laced with…something. And Pu smokes it.
Since the 1950s, the Golden Triangle of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar has produced an extremely large amount of opium, and most of the world’s heroin had come from there until the Invasion of Afghanistan in the early 21st century. So, in the late 1970s, when this movie is set, drugs must have been easily available in Thailand. The same goes for the mid-1980s. To be fair, the movie shows teenagers who are explicitly against using drugs, at least the hard stuff. But it also shows established programs for coping with drug addiction. Whether they actually work…
While watching this movie the first time through, I thought that it was a pretty thoughtful tale of a teenage boy’s gradual descent from mere troublemaker to drug addict. However, it was more than that. The movie states at the end that it was based on a true story, but does not give much context. It probably did not need to in Thailand. Maybe some will help for us.
I do not recall exactly, but I am pretty sure that the mother’s name is not mentioned in the movie itself. Maybe it was in the credits, but I am not sure. In any case, I call her Suwanni because that was the name of the mother in the real-life story. Suwanni Sukhontha was a government worker-turned-author who was hitting the big time when her son fell hard into drugs. Suddenly, her fame turned to infamy. People accused her of being neglectful of her children in her pursuit of professional success. Suwanni herself turned inward, trying to figure out how she could have been so ignorant of her son’s problems, despite all of the signs. She tried to work through what she did wrong as a mother, where she and her ex-husband had failed as parents.
Suwanni’s soul-searching resulted in a novel called The Story of Nampu, which would eventually be adapted into this movie. I am not sure how faithful to real life was the novel or how faithful the is movie to either, but I think that the spirit is what matters. What did Suwanni Sukhontha think about the movie? Well, it is difficult to say. In a horrible twist, two drug-addicted technical school students tried to steal her car and stabbed her to death in the process only a few months before the movie was released. That scene where Pu and his friends steal her car seems a little more menacing in retrospect.
Anyways…what is the picture that the movie paints? Well, perhaps Pu was cursed from birth. But maybe that notion was just something gnawing at his father, which eventually got to Pu himself. The first post-birth scene of Pu is of him running off with a doll belonging to one of his sisters. Sure, the framing of this implies that he was a bad kid, but this is hardly beyond the pale of typical behavior of squabbling siblings. While the arguments between Suwanni and her husband that the movie shows seem to revolve more around infidelity than their children, the destruction of Pu’s makeshift toy is what ultimately causes the split. In the context of this, it could seem like Pu’s father was more distant and hard on him than on his sisters, using the “curse” as an excuse. Pu is much closer to his mother than he is to his father even before the split, continuing to cling to her as a teenager and resenting when she leaves.
The first scene of Pu as a teenager places him in the delinquent category, skipping school, smoking cigarettes with a friend, and running from the…school police? While he can be gentle and considerate with his mother, he continues to squabble with his sisters and occasionally act rowdy outside. He is not necessarily terrible, but he is not a perfect child. He does try to do good at times, and even put an effort into it. Yet, he feels like he should be acknowledged for improving himself. And if he does not feel like his efforts are appreciated, then he risks spiraling back down. He may not necessarily be that smart, but he is thoughtful. So when he decides on an incorrect narrative, he can stew on it for a while.
He also fancies himself an artistic person, first in terms of music and second with his pictures. Whether he is good at either is not really the point, but the important part is how this goes against his mother’s wishes. Suwanni believes that her work as an author is only sort of making ends meet, and she is pretty cynical about her money-making work not being what she puts her heart in. She hopes that her children will pick more practical jobs. A rock star is not that. Neither is a painter, which is what their father does. Even taking part in art class seems like low-key rebellion on Pu’s part, even if it is not meant to be. Perhaps he subconsciously sees it as an effort to connect with his father, but it does not help. Even as sensible as Suwanni’s statements may seem, it is easy to argue that they are hypocritical.
So…this paragraph…may be way off. As Suwanni wonders where she went wrong with her son, she speculates that she simply was bad at raising boys, since her daughters seemed to be turning out good or at least okay. Of course, their father did not call them cursed from birth and lash out at them. Still, there are moments that remind him that he is an outsider in his own family, even if the superficial tension is due to his own foolish act. Occasional fights aside, Pu is…not necessarily the most aggressively macho person. I am not sure if that was meant to be a commentary on his closeness to his mother and distance from his father or simply my own particular preconceived notions as an American clouding my viewing. Still there were scenes that made me wonder whether the movie had been trying to imply that he may have been homosexual, but had to pull back on that. Again, I could have completely misinterpreted the movie regarding that. Making a movie about drug addiction in Thailand in the mid-1980s was risky enough already. Anyways…
Pu mama’s boy behavior and his distrust of the perfectly fine Run (who continues to try to reach out to the boy even if he believes that it is hopeless) is not merely due to an Oedipus Complex, as he also visits his father a few times and tries to interact with him as son to father. It is notable that these encounters happen when his father is at work, as it is unlikely that his father would come to visit Pu’s home or allow Pu to visit him at home. Suwanni sometimes says that she tried to be both a mother and father to him, but failed. However, it does not seem like Pu wanted a father figure. He wanted his father to be a father to him. But if that was difficult before the split, it was not even a possibility afterwards. And no matter how much Run tries to be good to Pu, Pu sees him as an interloper and a sign that his mother is being unfaithful. So, instead of welcoming a father figure, Pu rebels even further.
This movie is basically the story of a mother and son who seem so close, but end up so far apart. And also drug addiction. Yeah. There were maybe other things that I had wanted to say, but I have not really been able to articulate them. So, that’s about it. The movie can be a bit melodramatic, but I thought that it was quite good.
WTF ASIA 42: The Mission (Hong Kong: 1999. Approx. 84 minutes).
WTF ASIA 43: Saving My Hubby (South Korea: 2002. Approx. 92 minutes).