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Got the Routine

Sundance Institute

One for the Road (2021)

Although Thailand boasts a vibrant film scene, an American would never know it. It’s been a full decade since homegrown Thai box-office successes like “The Iron Ladies” and the Tony Jaa chopsocky reached cinemas on these shores. White gatekeeping on the festival circuit ensures that only filmmakers who shamelessly pander to Westerners will be let in, and architects behind the so-called Thai New Wave understand the gambit well.

Director-cowriter Baz Poonpiriya is one such case. Partly set in New York City where its two main characters originally met, his Thai buddy flick “One for the Road” is entirely punctuated by English pop ditties à la chapter headings in Lars von Trier’s “Breaking the Waves.” With scenes shot in Washington Square Park, one could be forgiven for mistaking Mr. Poonpiriya for the latest diversity case to descend the Tisch School of the Arts pipeline, encouraged to exploit their culture for American consumption. While he didn’t attend Tisch exactly, he is indeed the product of an American education.

The film revolves around the dying wishes of terminally-ill Aood (Ice Natara), for which he summons Boss (Tor Thanapob) to return from the U.S. and assist by driving the two of them around Thailand so Aood can personally bid farewell to every old flame and return to each a personal memento.

Spoiler alert: It turns out that Aood also has something, or someone rather, that he would like to return to Boss. While Mr. Poonpiriya must be impressed by his own self-perceived brilliance, the audience subjected to it should be aghast at his naked objectification of a woman as human chattel. None of the female characters have any agency, and the film fails the Bechdel test spectacularly. Mr. Poonpiriya probably fancies the film as some breezy road movie, but what transpires is theater of cruelty on par with Neil LaBute’s “In the Company of Men.”


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