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July 08, 2008

Pleasure Factory

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Kuaile Gongchang
Ekachai Uekrongtham - 2007
Strand Releasing Region 1 DVD

Four years after making Beautiful Boxer, it is discouraging to report on the disappointment of Ekachai Uekrongtham's return to filmmaking. Set in Singapore's red light district, Pleasure Factory lacks those elements that made Beautiful Boxer so compelling, primarily a dramatic story, a charismatic star, and the element of transgressive sexuality. Ekachai's attempt to present three loosely connected stories about some of the residents and patrons of the Geylang district seem to suffer from being to vague, perhaps also the result of relying on the abilities of non-actors to improvise, and well as scenes of silence that fail to communicate anything meaningful.

The film begins with a written introduction noting that the Geylang area was originally an industrial zone. Ekachai reminds the audience that sex work is work, with the exchange of cash for labor. The high definition video and harsh lighting further emphasize the factory, more than any pleasure. The use of hand-held cameras also adds to a documentary feel.

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The most effective part of the film is the story of a young, inexperienced soldier who spends to the night with an equally young prostitute. The soldier sits on one side of the bed while the prostitute patiently waits for him to make is move. Having only the dimmest knowledge of safe sex, the soldier show a collection of several boxes of different condoms, asking the prostitute to choose one. Briefly the soldier feels infatuated with the prostitute. For a moment, the two are like a young couple, attracted to each other but awkward in expressing mutual affection. In another scene, a popular prostitute, coming home from a tryst with a client, pays a street musician to spend the night with her, sitting together holding hands in silence.

Pleasure Factory begins with the image of another prostitute looking at fish in a pet store, and ends with her boyfriend staring at his small aquarium. I have to assume that this is Ekachai's metaphor for the people of Geylang, able to move within a limited area, but also trapped with nowhere to go, and essentially disposable. Unlike Beautiful Boxer which challenged the viewer not to feel sympathetic towards a champion Thai boxer whose goal was to live as a transgender woman, Pleasure Factory offers little that has not been expressed by others in recognizing the humanity of women who by choice or circumstance are sex workers. The effect of his newest film is that what ever potential Ekachai may have assumed his subject possessed, it is as if he discovered too late that he really had nothing to say.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 8, 2008 04:56 PM