DVD Review - The Blue Hour (Onthakan)

Premiered at the 65th Berlinale on February 9, 2015, this movie was the second from Thailand to deal with LGBT characters to play at that Berlin International Film Festival. The first was How to Win at Checkers (Every Time), directed by Josh Kim. This movie wasn't as acclaimed as the previous, but it is just as interesting and equally represents the compelling cinema coming from that kingdom, formerly known as Siam, particularly cinema inclusive of the LGBT community.

This might not be so surprising being that Thailand is reportedly one of the most tolerant countries in Asia for LGBT rights. However, people who monitor these things feel the tourists enjoy the tolerance more than local Thai people who in general still face bigotry and discrimination. Unlike the United States, for example, Thailand still has not yet legalized same-sex marriage, which is a monumental failing that's true of many countries.

This bigotry and discrimination aren't really felt in How to Win at Checkers (Every Time). In fact, Kim's film is almost the polar opposite to this one in terms of its acceptance of gay people and culture. This is to say that the characters surrounding the gay people in Kim's film are all accepting, whereas the characters surrounding the gay people here are not accepting and are in fact hateful. It could be the difference between city living and more rural living. Ironically though, the gay characters in Kim's film end up destroyed, whereas the gay characters here end up better.

Co-written and directed by Anucha Boonyawatana, this film underscores the fact that Thailand cinema does have a preponderance for ghosts and spirits, even within non-horror. Actually, that might not be a fact of all Thailand cinema. It might just be a fact of Apichatpong Weerasethakul who made two highly acclaimed films involving men meeting ghosts and spirits. One of which was a gay male romance, much like this one.

Atthaphan Poonsawas stars as Tam, a teenage boy, maybe 15 or 16, possibly older. He lives with his mom and older brother. His brother might not be aware, but his mom knows Tam is gay. She is not supportive of it. She doesn't kick him out or yell at him, but she calmly and quietly lets him know she doesn't support it. Older kids might not know about Tam's sexuality, but they bully and beat him up constantly, taking his money. The opening image is Tam lying on the ground bloody and bruised.

Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang co-stars as Phum, a slightly older boy who doesn't live with his family. He works at a garage. He probably is not still in school like Tam, although this movie seems to occur during the summer or some off-season. Despite some, possible estrangement from his family, Phum wants to reclaim land that his family used to own and somehow lost. That land is now a garbage dump. Regardless, Phum sees potential and dreams of cleaning it up and doing something more with it.

In the meantime, Tam and Phum retreat from their problems by secretly meeting in an abandoned, public swimming pool. They go there to have sex with each other, as well as to talk about their thoughts and feelings. A lot of it is Phum helping Tam to overcome his fears. It's a coming-of-age for Tam. Yet, the piece overall is a horror film, so along the way it tries to be creepy and build dread.

Phum tells Tam that the swimming pool is haunted. What Boonyawatana does is by the end make us question if the ghosts and spirits are trying to hurt Tam and Phum or help them. The movie isn't scary. It's sexy, even when the two male lovers are kissing each other in literal garbage, but it's not scary. The one, so-called, jump scare isn't at all. It's instead simply has you second-guessing certain things.

Despite all the blood and gore, as well as death and destruction, it surprisingly has a happy ending. Phum has a line of dialogue, "When you see the sky through the water, it's like the whole world is yours." Not to spoil what happens to the characters, but the ending actualizes that line to some degree! Arguably, the amount of killing can't be considered happy, but the characters do arrive to a kind of peace. Boonyawatana's arrival there makes it a worthy effort.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains gay sex and violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 39 mins.


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