Tropical Malady

"Excellent"

Tropical Malady Review


At first I thought that I had some difficulty decoding the many levels of Thai mythology and allegory in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's wonderfully mysterious and beautiful Tropical Malady simply because I'm a Westerner. But now I think that even Thai moviegoers may be a bit baffled by this one. In fact, the only people who may have understood it are the members of the 2004 Cannes Film Festival jury (helmed by Quentin Tarantino), who gave it the Jury Prize. But I'm not sure they quite got it either.

The literal translation of "Sud Pralad," the Thai title of Tropical Malady, is "strange animal," and it's a good choice. This movie is indeed one strange animal, and it's full of strange animals, from sick dogs and ghost cows to talking baboons. But before we see all that we meet the young farmhand Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee) and his friend, the soldier Keng (Banlop Lomnoi), whose friendship blossoms into a kind of effortless love that's nothing short of charming. We follow the two around Thailand on their daily rounds, from the forest to the shopping malls and pool halls and movie theaters of Bangkok. They play little games of slap and tickle. Keng gives Tong a Clash tape and later says, "When I gave you the tape I forgot to give you my heart. You can have it today." Awwww. It's a slow, documentary-like courtship.

At the hottest and heaviest moment, Tong takes Keng's hand and licks it as a dog would, long and lovingly, but then he walks away into the night, and -- fade to black -- the movie ends and starts over, this time as mythological tale of a hunter and a tiger stalking each other through a nearly pitch-black jungle. Keng, who looks the same, is the hunter, on a mission to find the deadly ghost tiger that has been devouring village animals and villagers, too. As he ventures deeper into the jungle, he encounters a talking baboon, who tells him to let the tiger eat him to merge their souls or to kill the tiger to help it escape the ghost world. Later Keng finds the carcass of an eviscerated cow. Then the ghost of the cow gets up and walks away, a very cool moment.

The tiger, of course, is Tong, and we see him both in animal form and in naked human form, his body covered with tiger-like tattoos. He races through the jungle, and when the two finally meet it becomes a wrestling match we watch from a distance, a strange parody of the love slaps we saw earlier.

So what's the "malady?" Tong and Keng are lovesick, and one reading is to propose that in part two, Keng gets a sort of malarial jungle fever of love. He's gone to the next level, trying to give not only his heart but his whole self to Tong, who wants to eat him up. It's kind of sweet, really.

The real reward of Tropical Malady is the moviemaking itself. It's slow, anecdotal, and told entirely from street level. It feels like a two-week backpacking trip through Thailand's outer reaches with countless encounters with smiling, funny Thais who just want to buy you a soda, show you a temple, or cook you some dinner. (One Thai auntie who discusses karma in the context of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is hilarious.)

Tropical Malady is the kind of film that doesn't necessarily reward you when you walk out of the theater. You need to go home and dream about it. Things will seem clearer in the morning.

Aka Sud pralad.

Not malaria.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 118 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 24th November 2004

Distributed by: Ad Vitam

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Fresh: 32 Rotten: 10

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Keng, as Tong

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