A taciturn, buttoned-down professional type checks into a beachside hotel out of season and falls in love - slowly, hesitantly - with the beautiful, if lonely, woman who works there. Everything is sunshine and lollipops until tragedy intercedes. Sound familiar? That's the same basic set-up of Nights in Rodanthe, the latest Nicholas Sparks tearjerker currently playing on multiplex screens from sea to shining sea. It's also the premise of the Thai film Wonderful Town, a considerably more rigorous movie.
Written and directed by Aditya Assarat - none of whose previous films were released in this country - Wonderful Town bears a passing resemblance to the work of Thai wunderkind Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady, Syndromes and a Century) in its measured pace and tactile imagery. But compared to a Weerasethakul movie, whose hidden layers of meaning can be a losing battle for impatient viewers, there's nothing remotely "difficult" about Town. It just has a different, more leisurely rhythm than most North American audiences are accustomed to. Wonderful Town also occasionally has the feel of one of Eric Rohmer's Moral Tales - albeit a Rohmer film in which the man and woman don't talk a whole lot, but mostly exchange soulful glances. Assarat lets us see the love blossom between Na (Anchalee Saisoontorn) and Ton (Supphasit Kansen) as their inchoate feelings become more and more pronounced, and they're not able to deny them any longer.
When tragedy strikes, it's like a blow to the solar plexus. And unlike Rodanthe, it's tough to be unmoved by Ton and Na's conjoined destiny. The vague undercurrent of menace that permeates the final act beautifully (and subtly) leads to Assarat's weepy denouement. He's a filmmaker who doesn't cheat, even if his romantic leads are denied their Happily Ever After.