Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Uncle Boonmee Lived One Wild Life.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

What happens to us when we die? This is the central question behind Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s mystical fable of the afterlife. While many believe that our souls pass on into the afterlife, Weerasethakul’s story takes the approach that souls are eternally bound to the people whose lives they have encountered. As Uncle Boonmee’s dead wife states “ghost aren’t attached to places but to people.”

Weerasethakul’s tale takes place in the countryside of the northeast section of Thailand. Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar), who is suffering from kidney failure, decides to spend his final days with close family and friends in his rural estate. One night Uncle Boonmee’s deceased wife appears out of the blue to see her husband. She informs him that several spirits and animals have surrounded his house as word of is impending death has spread. If that was not shocking enough, Uncle Boonmee’s long-lost son returns home that same night in non-human form. Transformed into a sasquatch-like creature, known as Monkey Ghost, Uncle Boonmee’s son recounts how he came to such a state and his dream of a dark future for mankind. With humans and non-humans by his side, Uncle Boonmee sets out one on last trip into the jungle towards the mystical cave in which his soul was first born. Along the way he experiences distorted memories and encounters various incarnations of his past.

Meditative and daring, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is nothing like what you would normally expect from a film categorized as a comedy. While there are some amusing moments, such as when Monkey Ghost poses for a “buddy” picture with the army after telling a story about the horrors of military rule, Uncle Boonmee is by no means a laugh out loud type of film. If anything, the film is the perfect blend of mystical phantasm and artistic flare. Apichatpong Weerasethakul incorporates various film styles ranging from documentary to period to elaborate on the themes of the past, lost beauty, and the supernatural.

The use of different tones really provides an overall richness to the characters in the film. This is evident in the eerie feel that Weerasethakul give Monkey Ghost. One minute its ominous red eyes create a sense of dread then, later on, you find yourself feeling sorry for the creature when it is abducted by the army. The arc of Monkey Ghost goes from menacing to sombre to comedic. In many ways a similar point can be made for the princess who has lost her beauty. She wants to be loved but is has problems coming to terms with the lost of her beauty. What starts off as a tale of a vain women eventually morphs into a euphoric and comedic tale as the princess has a special meeting with a fish.

At times the pacing in the film is a tad slow but that is to be expected in this type of story. The one element of the film that bothered me a bit was the perplexing ending. I could not grasp the significance of the characters sitting on the bed watching television, while their spirits go to the restaurant for a bite to eat, to the overall story. It seemed like it was done purely for stylistic reasons. Regardless, this was only a small mark on an otherwise shining piece of filmmaking. If you are in the mood to experience something different from the norm, then I would suggest taking a chance on Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.


  1. doesn't sound my usual sort of movie but I am interested after reading this, good post

  2. Wow, this movie just must be released at some point. It sounds so silly, so preposterous that is has to be good.

  3. @Dempsey – It is definitely different from most of the films out right now. Still, how often do you get a chance to see a Thai film? I would recommend taking the risk purely for the experience of stepping out of your normal cinematic comfort zone.

    @Edgar – I know it had a brief run at the TIFF Lightbox here in Toronto back in September. I saw it on an Air Canada flight recently so I am assuming it is making the rounds. If you cannot find it in your local indie theatres then I would suggest seeking it out on DVD.

  4. Really looking forward to seeing this. It sounds very interesting and I'm always down for a good Asian film.

  5. @Will - While I enjoy Asian cinema this was my first real experience with films out of Thailand. Not a bad way to start though.


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