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November 19, 2008

My SDFF - Happy/Chocolate

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Terribly Happy/Frygtelig Lykkelig
Henrik Ruben Genz - 2008
Nordisk Film 35mm film

Advanced comparisons of the Danish Terribly Happy with films by the Coen Brothers are overstated. While Genz's film begins with the statement that the story is based on fact, with a fish out of water cop, this is no Fargo. There are moments that may strike some as similar in tone to Blood Simple, but again, that frame of reference is liable to mislead audience expectations.

Robert Hansen is introduced as a cop who has been transfered to a very small, rural town, having served on the police force in Copenhagen. His superior officer notes the benefits of this "second chance". The town legend has it that a two-headed cow was rescued from a bog, havoc followed, and peace was re-established when the cow was dumped back into the bog for good. The bog serves as the hiding place for secrets, real or imagined, for a town where everyone knows everyone else, and nothing stays hidden for long.

An attractive woman, Ingerlise, quickly insinuates herself into Robert's life. There are questions as to whether Ingerlise's marriage to Jorgen is happy, whether Ingerlise's wounds were caused by her husband or self-inflicted. Discord is indicated when their young daughter is seen on the streets pushing her squeaky wheeled buggy at regular intervals during the evening. Robert also finds that his position as the town's sole lawman is limited as the residents have their own methods of dealing with each other to minimize interference from outsiders. This is a town so insular that when a resident dies unexpectedly, the town's priest reminds those attending the funeral that the deceased wasn't truly one of them.

Robert sense of disconnection with the town is amplified by his disconnection with the family he had to leave in Copenhagen. Genz extends the feeling of isolation with shots of the flat, green-brown land, and a perpetually overcast sky. The use of tilted shots used in briefly also indicates Robert's sense of dislocation. In a story of shifting loyalties, the twists and turns are sometimes subtle. Terribly Happy concludes with a couple of surprises that satisfyingly do not come from left field but from the boggy field.

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Prachya Pinkaew - 2008
Magnet Releasing 35mm film

As for Chocolate, I had to see this if only because I haven't seen a Thai film in a theater since I left Thailand. After a promising beginning, the film lapsed into the usual strengths and weaknesses of many Thai films, terrific martial arts set pieces, and a story that often denies logic. The script should have been better considering the involvement of Chukiat Sakveerakul, the writer-director of the award winning Love of Siam, Thailand's Oscar entry this year. There are also elements in Chocolate that one will only find in a Thai film.

The heroine, Zen, is often referred to as autistic although in the film she is simply described as special. Whatever the case, I'm calling Chocolate the Rainman of martial arts movies. "Jeeja" Yanin Wismitanan is almost as annoying throwing temper tantrums as Dustin Hoffman crying to see Judge Wapner. Watching the neighborhood kids practicing Muay Thai boxing and Tony Jaa movies on television, Zen first uses her abilities to defend the fat boy who becomes her only friend. Discovering that her cancer stricken mother, the former girlfriend of a Japanese gangster, is owed money, Zen goes around collecting past debts to pay medical bills.

The point of seeing Chocolate is to watch Jeeja in action. She doesn't have the grace or charisma of Tony Jaa, arguably the Nijinsky of Muay Thai, but there is pleasure in watching the skinny mop topped girl take on the bad guys. Prachya Pinkaew, director of Ong-Bak, understands how to film the fight scenes so that the action is clear to follow, making use of the props and obstacles of the different settings. Two of the more unusual settings for the fight scenes are a butcher shop with cleavers, meat hooks and pigs' heads, and an ice factory with its cutting machinery.

What makes Chocolate uniquely Thai are the ladyboys. They're both more dangerous, and somewhat better dressed than the gang in Insee Thong. As long as there are ladyboys in Thailand and in Thai films, I would hope that Prachya takes the next logical step. The villain in Prachya's Tom Yum Gong was portrayed by Jing Xing. One of the characters in Prachya produced Mercury Man was played by the true life "Beautiful Boxer", Nong Thoom. Nong is overdue a starring role that would make use of her fighting skills. In the meantime, Jeeja's Muay Thai skills are generously displayed in Chocolate with an abundance matched by the large cylinders of candy that are snacked on between fights.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 19, 2008 12:40 AM


I wasn't blown away by Terribly Happy. Something about it felt contrived and lackluster, though I did enjoy how much of an animal Hansen was. Although it reminded me of The Wicker Man, the town just wasn't evil (or amusingly evil) enough for me.

Posted by: Marilyn at November 20, 2008 11:17 AM