Director – Janya Sakino
Sake-Bomb is a Japanese comedy that play’s on Asian stereotypes and crude adult culture in order to display its message deep within, that these stereotypes take advantage of innocent people, and create impressions that define them, instead of showing the beauty of their personalities.
Naoto; played fittingly by Gaku Hamada, takes a visit to Los Angeles to locate his one true love; his ex-teacher and lover Olivia. This romantic journey is tinged by the constant incompetence of his wannabe-internet-star cousin, Sebastian; brought to life by the energetic performance of Eugene Kim. Throughout the journey Naoto is fed these racial stereotypes in order to prevent himself being seen like a FOB (From off the boat) asian to Sebastian’s American friends. Making the trip mould into a selfish ploy for Sebastian to nurture his ego and turn Naoto into a smaller version of himself. After the constant hate Sebastian received from his controversial opinions about the contrasting cultures, he suddenly began realise the racism surrounding asian heritage, revealing his vlog (FOB motherf*cker) was only a plee for attention and began to respect his cousin Naoto a lot more because of his mental strength. Despite Naoto’s reason for travelling to Los Angeles was to understand why Olivia left him in Japan, he wasn’t shaken by the harsh reality that she was already married, and was when she was with him in Japan. Instead he saw the bigger picture and showed his strong mentality.
However, the film was covered by crude humour surrounding these controversial stereotypes, which made it hard to find funny. This humour really polluted the message, however sweet it was. Especially with a dreary storyline that became increasingly predictable. Everything seemed to fit together too perfectly.
It’s unfair to say this crudeness overpopulated the whole feature, because there was some funny moments, especially the scene with the racist police man who summarised the cultural blindness of some Americans, making generalisations and acting on the stereotypes previously mentioned by Sebastian. I felt that the crudeness out weighed the genuinely funny parts of the film, which made it loose the essence that was intended for such a sweet character like Naoto. Furthermore, it seemed like it was trying too hard to convey messages about the Japanese to the Americans, making it loose its essence as a Japanese film and adopt a cheesy American viewpoint, which added to the dreariness and predictability of the storyline.
Understandably this humour was only used to make such a controversial issue seem more light hearted, but instead it made the film come across quite tacky. Regardless of this, if you brush away the surface, there is a sweet inside that leaks out gradually; through the (surprisingly long) 82minute duration. The predictability that Sebastian would start to show more tolerance to Naoto’s interest, insensitive to how stereotypical, or how FOB like it was, made this sweetness almost obsolete. But still, it gave a sweet after taste that followed the 70 minutes of on and off cringe worthy comedy.
Director – Baniong Pisanthanakun
Pee Mak was a stunning all-round hilarious depiction of a Thai ghost story, adapted exquisitely by Pisanthanakun. The story was set in Phra Khanong after Mak and his friends Ter, Puak, Shin, and Aey returned from war. Subtle hints suggested something wasn’t right, and Mak’s friends soon tied the strange goings on to Mak’s wife Nak, who they believed to be a ghost, returned from the dead after giving birth to Mak’s son Dang. After hilarious scenes of their suspicion and Mak’s elegid blind-eye to the whole situation, the plot twisted in several directions, labelling others as the ghost and then hurriedly back to Nak. During this flood of gut-busting visuals, different genre’s appears in the film, switching between the comedy of Mak’s friends, the horror of the ghost and the Romance between Mak and Nak. The latter was incredibly intense at the end, showing the true power of love, with comedic interludes showing Ter, Puak, Shin, and Aey’s ludicrous reactions. It essentially presents Mak with the choice to go with love or normality, and he chooses to love the personality he feel in love with, regardless of imperfections, stereotypes and normality. In this respect, the films voice is extremely strong.
What really sold this film was the strong characterisation of Ter, Puak, Shin, and Aey, a hilarious combination Pisanthanakun has used in both ‘4bia’ and ‘Phobia 2’. Despite having a cultural and language barrier, the jokes were universal and had the audience in stiches throughout. Even though I felt the film was lacking interest in the middle, it returned better than ever in the final stages, maintaining emotional attachment with Mak and Nak, while returning to Ter, Puak, Shin, and Aey to create one of the most entertaining scenes I’ve enjoyed in cinema.
Pisanthanakun saw inspiration from Edgar Wright’s films ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’. Links can be drawn from the use of different genre’s, but I feel that Pee Mak was it’s own separate entity, and a fresh interpretation. The joke’s were funnier but the character’s were less relatable, not meaning it wasn’t as funny, just meaning it lost some sincerity. That would be my criticism, the film didn’t seem like a plausible event, understandably a ghost story isn’t exactly a relatable event, but the characterisation was over the top and the make-up and visual effects made it even less sincere. But all these nit-picks don’t effect the essence of the film, its innocence made it an enjoyable experience and a true representation of the heights of Thai cinema.
Even though Sake-bomb was Sakino’s debut feature, and the film gained recognition by the south-by-south-west film festival. It’s comedy, story-line, visuals, romance and direction was lost in comparison to Pee Mak. It’s clear that Pisanthanakun has a keen understanding about what the viewer wants, and its comedy would be compared more to older films like Charlie Chaplin and Life of Brian. Sake-bomb plays more into the new wave of crude comedy that emerged from American cinema; and I feel like that’s its problem, its trying too hard to appeal to a wider audience, but it only makes it lose culture and engagement. Even though Pee Mak isn’t intended for wider audiences, its clean comedy plays universally and no matter where you’re from, proves to be an entertaining rollercoaster ride.