Directed by Aditya Assarat
Thailand, 2000, 102 minutes
This simple and quiet film screened recently as part of the Blissfully Thai series, which is being presented by Asia Society in association with Cineaste.
Zoe (Cerise Leang), a slim lovely young woman, arrives in Thailand from San Francisco to join her boyfriend Ananda (Ananda Everinghan) at a hotel near the shore. He returned to Thailand from the U.S. not too long ago and is starring in a movie being shot neaby at the ruins of another hotel. That film is about a man who became an amnesiac as a result of the Indian Ocean tsunami of a few years earlier.
While the two do get to spend some intimate time together, Zoe is mainly on her own, and she's bored. It's the off-season, and there's basically no one around during the day, while the cast and crew are at the film site, but the small staff at the hotel. Even Ananda's translating Thai into English at her request while they loll in bed cannot make up for her lonely situation. The most fun we see her having is at the informal birthday party the staff is giving for the chambermaid.
We get the feeling that her relationship with Ananda is withering. One day she tells the hotel's bartender and waiter, who speaks some English and whom she's befriended, that she's leaving the next day. But we see neither her goodbye to Ananda nor her departure itself, not from the hotel nor from Thailand.
Some time later, Ananda has a new girlfriend. May (Sajee Apiwong) works for the production company of Ananda's recently completed film. They are pretty much living together in his apartment, which is in a building owned by his wealthy mother, whom we never meet. There he translates for May much as he did for Zoe, only in this case it's from English into Thai. (Compare the picture immediately above with the one at the top of this post.)
May takes in a lost dog. She and Ananda visit his old home on an upper floor in the building, his current apartment being on a lower level. They go to the roof where Ananda explains that this building once was the tallest one in Bangkok, whereas now there are numerous buildings, presumably both residential and business, that are at least as tall.
The title refers to Thailand's high society types. And it's clear that Ananda is one of the higher of the high, though he doesn't put on airs. We get to see him giving out bonuses for the New Year to the staff of the apartment building, a scruffy prince showing his -- and his mother's -- appreciation for their efforts.
The film is a modest, low-key, slice-of-life endeavor. We are not treated to any "high drama," nor is there any real character development. We simply get to witness parts of the lives of the characters.
Yet it would be a gross oversimplification to dismiss Hi-So as a Thai feature-length film version of the television show George and Jerry pitched on Seinfeld, that is, a "show about nothing." There are moments of great poignancy, such as when the bartender/waiter tells Zoe about his visit to the United States. It consisted of only a few hours, because he was not granted a visa and was forced to return to Thailand right away. He still cannot fathom why this was so, and it clearly still troubles him.
The parallel "translating in bed" scenes are revealing, not so much for their similarity (aside from which language is being translated), but for the slight additional twist in May's explanation of why she wants Ananda to translate for her. And there is an interesting juxtaposition of the destruction wrought by the tsunami and the man-made destruction of a wing of Ananda's apartment building, supposedly for renovation purposes.
Hi-So may not be for everyone, but for those who can accept it on its own terms, it's a film certainly worth seeing.