There’s a scene in David O. Russell’s intermittingly brilliant I Heart Huckabees where Dustin Hoffman’s existential detective likens a bed sheet to the tissue that connects the world around us. In Tropical Malady, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s more successfully evokes an existential fiber between sexual desire and cultural mythos in the pastoral jungle outside a Thai village when a young soldier, Keng (Banlop Lomnoi), falls in love with a country boy, Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee). Weerasethakul’s metaphysical fascination with ordinary human gestures and the shape of everyday objects colors Keng and Tong’s unpretentious, bittersweet courtship. Keng gives Tong a Clash tape but forgets to give him his heart, and when Keng attempts to transplant his love for Tong via a simple gesticulation of his arm, the transfusion of Keng’s cosmic-romantic energy is ravishingly felt in the director’s enchanted compositions. But if Tropical Malady begins as a simple love story, it turns into something more profound when Keng enters the jungle in pursuit of a creature allegedly responsible for killing Tong’s mother’s livestock. Because Weerasethakul equates Keng and Tong’s suffocating love for one another to a twisted landscape of trees, Tropical Malady could just as easily have been called Unbearably Yours. A glorious mood piece, the film mirrors the yin of Keng’s pursuit of Tong throughout the first half of the film to the yang of Keng’s spiritual journey through the second half. Though the film’s two parts seem as if they could work independently of one another, the first half clearly anticipates the second, or, more precisely, the second half seems to reimagine the more conventional first part as a primitive tribal dance. Both parts seem to tell the same story—only one says it with considerably less words. Keng’s love for Tong borders on unrequited: When Keng smells Tong’s hand after Tong urinates on the side of the road, he returns the erotic sentiment by aggressively (maybe condescendingly) licking Keng’s hand. Earlier, Keng grabs Tong’s leg during an incredibly erotic scene in a movie theater, to which an excited Tong responds by trapping Keng’s hand between his thighs and grabbing his shoulders with his arm. The twisting arms and legs anticipate the tangle of trees that similarly bind them during the film’s second half. Both love story and folk tale, Tropical Malady intersects eros with cultural traditions, heralding the thrill of the chase and asserting that the deepest romances are not sexual but spiritual in nature. Literally.
My DVD system had a difficult time figuring out Tropical Malady's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1, but I was able to make the 1.33:1 presentation disappear after some tinkering with my player's settings. Since my system has never farted out like this, I place the blame on the disc's artificial intelligence. Consider this a warning should you plop the disc in your player and see the same ghastly fullscreen horror. Now, in terms of image and sound quality, this is a solid presentation. Colors are accurate and robust and contrast is profound, but sound is a little underwhelming and could have benefited from a 5.1 surround treatment.
The commentary track by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and critic Chuck Stephens isn't so much a joint commentary as much as a two-hour question-and-answer jam session. In his answers, Weerasethakul reveals himself to be as playful, innocent, and unpretentious as Tong from the film, a fact that I'm not sure if Stephens is perturbed or mesmerized by. Rounding out the disc's supplemental materials is a bunch of deleted scenes (sans subtitles), storyboards, a photo gallery, and trailers for other Strand Releasing titles including Swoon and those two awful Iron Ladies movies.
Here are some more adjectives you can add to the disc's cover art: beautiful, elegiac, profound, and mythical.