It’s easy to write a poem like those of ex-poet laureate, Pulitzer Prize-winning Louise Glück. Start with a vague description of nature, with some animal-vegetable-mineral or another “swimming” or “bristling,” followed by some statement that the poet, too, has had recognizable emotions, followed by a totally impersonal personal anecdote from a Lands End catalogue, and finish with some intimation that all men must die. With the completely useless Wonderful Town, Aditya Assarat announces himself as Glück’s Thai cinematic heir, an ambitious hack barely imaginative enough to even indicate his ambition.
An architect (Supphasit Kansen) arrives in a ghost town and falls in love with a young hotel proprietress (Anchalee Saisoontorn). We know even this much because they spend fruitless moments laying in the grass next to each other and riding a motorcycle together and running into each other in the hall and staring without saying anything, while Assarat runs a quasi-Ry Cooder folk score over it all to hammer in its calculated quietness; no big deal, just another two people falling in love, stand-ins for the entire human race. Loneliness, as in Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s similarly vacant—but ambient—Last Life in the Universe, is not only delicate but a delicacy, an excuse for two soulful souls to join, a wonderfully romantic idea for anyone who’s never actually experienced loneliness at all. Wonderful Town is the sort of chaste, tasteful endeavor that exchanges a sex scene with shots of the ocean quietly rippling on shore, and thus turns sex into the stuff of monthly calendars, even while in inserting angry gangsters into the mix it has the good sense to remind us that there are Evil people in this world who resent Love and all who embody its Sacred Name. Shot on muddy DV, the movie is a fairy tale only so much as it consists entirely of wishful thinking.
Obviously, Assarat was inspired by the treatment of near-mute characters in recent “contemplative cinema.” Just as obviously, Assarat fails to see how the muteness is less a cute affectation than a critique: that Tsai Ming-liang’s characters, overtaken by bodily desires, can only communicate physically (hence his penchant for both dance and porn); that Jia Zhang-ke’s characters have been so crippled by a lack of privacy that they have no idea how to even get in touch with their private parts; that Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s deluded lovers enact fantasies in an oblivious world of chaos and historical disintegration; that Hou Hsiao-hsien’s characters, if they can ever be generalized, don’t communicate because they don’t really connect (much like Antonioni’s); that Philippe Garrel’s characters are too drugged out of their daydreaming minds to speak…and so on.
Wonderful Town, meanwhile, is contemplative cinema with nothing to contemplate. Like Glück, Assarat tells instead of shows, but at least a Glück poem takes less than a minute to read. The architect falls in love with the proprietress because they’re the stars of the movie, and the gangsters want to kill him because he’s the star of the movie, and they’re all lonely in a lonesome town. Assarat’s characters don’t speak presumably because it’s precious to pantomime a romance, but really because Assarat has nothing to say.