Homestay

Thailand (2018) Dir. Parkpoom Wongpoom

So far on this site, I’ve reviewed the anime adaptation of the novel Colorful by Eto Mori, and the Japanese live-action film Homestay (available on Amazon Prime), so now it is time to complete the circuit so to speak, and take a look at the Thai adaptation of Mori’s novel and see what is what.

A teenage boy (Teeradon Supapunpinyo) awakens in a hospital morgue scaring the life out of the nurses who thought he was dead. Trying to escape, he encounters a cleaner calling himself Guardian (Nopachai Chainam), who explains to the boy he is a lost spirit giving a second chance at life inside the body of a suicide victim named Min. To earn his reward of being reborn the spirit has 100 days to discover why Min committed suicide.

Min returns home with mother Ruedee (Suquan Bulakul), father (Roj Kwantham), and elder brother Menn (Natthasit Kotimanuswanich), the most hostile of the three. Under the excuse of having had the flu, Min returns to school, reuniting with tomboy friend Li (Saruda Kiatwarawut), who harbours tacit feelings for him, and Pi (Cherprang Areekul), his tutor peer and promising academic rep for the school.

One of the things about reviewing a film that is a remake or has been remade is the repetition of writing the same plot summary, unless major changes are made to the story. It would appear by dint of the shared title of Homestay alone that the Japanese live action take chose to follow this adaptation of Mori’s novel rather than the anime. This leads me to assume, having not read the novel, either the anime is the one which deviates from the source material, or is the only one most faithful to it.

Having said that, cultural differences incur many fundamental and notable changes when comparing both live action films, which we’ll discuss as we go along. The most critical difference is how Parkpoom Wongpoom, who co-wrote the screenplay, focuses more on the emotional drama and stays closer to the darker aspect of the plot as explored in the anime, which the Japanese live action version chose to tone done.

Visually, the Japanese version is a tad blatant in what it copied from this film, namely the time freezing whenever Min meets Guardian in all of his/her many guises. This is most obvious in a hospital scene where a glass of water thrown into the air freezes, the droplets from the body of water hanging before Min’s face like a swarm of bees which he could easily dodge; the Japanese version pretty much replicates this idea wholesale.

The first meeting between Min and Guardian here however is very different, taking place on the side of the hospital building in the pouring rain, both inexplicably able to stand horizontally and not fall to the ground. It might be CGI assisted but the image of the rain falling vertically as normal against their bodies is very well done, succinctly delineating the otherworldly nature of this story.

Wongpoom decides to make the mystery aspect the main focus of the first half of the film, with Min finding his bedroom door locked and forbidden to enter it by his mother; his father seems disinterested, and surly Menn would rather be anywhere else than with his brother. With no information from Guardian or any memories of Min’s to mine, this a hunt in the dark for our protagonist, but he is determined to find answers, thought not everything makes sense for now.

It’s when Min returns to school that Wongpoom shifts his attention to the relationship between Min and Pi, with the occasional appearance from Li. One facet both the anime and the Japanese film do a better job of establishing is Min’s love for art, which is quickly introduced here then forgotten until the final act. Instead, a subplot involving Min trying to woo Pi takes precedent, and Pi’s endeavours to make the school Academic Olympics team, which takes a seedy turn.

Because Thai censorship is strict about depicting sexual matters, the barest minimum is involved when sharing the lascivious practices of Olympics tutor Mr. Pat, visually and via exposition. It doesn’t do any damage to the narrative except to rob it of any true cause for the audience to be disgusted, leaving it to Min’s misreading of the moment and Pi’s painful admission of guilt to sell the drama.

For a film with such an involved storyline, Wongpoom seems intent on making it more complex with these additional subplots, which only serves to push the main concern of discerning Min’s reason for suicide to the back, before resuming it in the third act. Had the Pi storyline not existed or replaced with streamlined feel good goal for Min to aim for, the sinuous skeins of the family mystery would have carried the drama more, and arguably more successfully too.

Ex-boyband singer Teeradon Supapunpinyo turns in a superb performance as Min, as both the most realised character and the fulcrum around which everything revolves. He is able to create a believable chemistry with his fellow cast members, the most touching and powerful being with Suquan Bulakul as his mother, the other pillar of the film’s emotional heft. BNK48 member Cherprang Areekul’s assured debut as Pi adds her name to the list of idols effortlessly capable of transitioning to acting when the music stops.

Judging all three films as one is perhaps specious as they all offer something different, this one obviously standing out from being Thai and not Japanese, yet there are flickers of the story’s Japanese roots found in the subtext of Wongpoom’s approach to the spiritual meaning behind the drama.

Due the anime standing on its own, I feel Wongpoom’s Homestay is the stronger of the two namesake films, as it isn’t afraid to get gritty and bleak whilst the Japanese version plays it a bit too nice. A very well made, aesthetically pleasing if overlong reading of an existential fantasy dilemma.

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