Top positive review
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21st century cross-cultural love story
on November 26, 2004
Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's 2003 film, Last Life in the Universe, is an intelligently crafted drama of two polar opposites who meet under unusual circumstances. Kenji, Japanese, is living in Bangkok, and is a suicide-obsessed neat freak librarian whose brother is a yakuza. The brother, played by none other than Mr. Intensity himself, prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike, comes to the librarian's apartment to hide out for a short time but while there, tragedy ensues and Kenji has to leave, fast.
Noi, a native Thai (the director is Thai) is arguing with her younger sister in the middle of traffic. When they stop in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, yelling at each other, Noi telling her sister to leave, tragedy of a different kind occurs and Noi is left completely numb.
Noi, as it happens, is a total slob. When these two meet--both in their 20s--there's a halting, push-pull back and forth that is underscored by lack of familiarity with the other's language. They speak to each other in hesitant English that gives their attempts at connecting to each other a much greater poignance and heartfelt feeling than if they'd been both Thai or both Japanese.
The subtlety of this connection is so sensitively created that it is a real pleasure to watch this film, to see two mismatched people try to converge emotionally. In one brilliant scene, Noi lies with her head in Kenji's lap and for a brief moment, we see not Noi lying there, but her younger sister, now gone.
Interestingly enough, this film was submitted to the Cannes Film Festival at the same time as Lost in Translation with similar thematic elements and is, in my opinion, a far better film. Unfortunately it did not win anything. The director's previous work, which has garnered strong praise from various sources, is, alas, not available domestically; it definitely should be.
UPDATE: Good news! The comedy 6ixtyNin9 by the same director will be out domestically in January 2005.
A beautifully made film that should be seen by those tired of American cinematic cliches and want something fresh, original, and unique.
Very highly recommended.