Bangkok Love Story
Pheuan... Guu rak meung waa

TLA Releasing,

Poj Arnon

Rattanaballang Tohssawat, Chaiwat Thongsaeng, Wiradit Srimalai, Chutcha Rujinanon, Suchao Pongwilai, Chonprakhan Janthareuang

Unrated, 90 minutes

A Taste of Thai
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, August 2008


Ever watch a movie that began splendidly and then just disintegrated before your eyes? I truly wish that the subject of this column didn't fall into that category because I was spellbound by its first half hour.

Bangkok Love Story from writer/director Poj Arnon was, according to, "the film that everyone was talking about" when it was released in its native Thailand during the summer of 2007. It was a milestone for its depiction of gay men on the Thai screen as previous portrayals consisted, for the most part, of stereotyped transvestites (or kathoey in their native tongue). Bangkok Love Story weaves the provocative tale of a police informant and an assassin who fall in love.

I should use the characters' original Thai names but methinks it will be easier for potential viewers if I stick with the Americanized ones used in the subtitles. Cloud (Rattanaballang Tohssawat) is a young man "who does a job that no one wants to do." His brother, Fog, and their mother, are both destitute and suffer from AIDS complications. In order to acquire the funds to care for them, he works as a hired assassin. But he is a hitman with a conscience; he only kills "scumbags" and we observe him at close hand as he stalks and then shoots his prey in the flashy opening montage. Afterwards, he meets his brother and tells Fog that he is going to take him and their mother away from the slums of Bangkok to the mountains of Mae Hong Son Province as soon as he finishes one last job.

His target is a man named Stone (Chaiwat Thongsaeng). His orders, this time, are to bring the man in alive and he abducts Stone in a crowded outdoor cafe and brings him to the underworld boss who waits for them in a warehouse filled with gold statues of the Buddha. Cloud discovers, to his dismay, that Stone is a police informant. Killing a "good man" is contrary to his code and, when he refuses to carry out his assingment, the boss threatens to shoot them both. I'm not going to even try to explain what happens next because the choreography of the shoot-out that follows (some of it filmed in slow motion, some of it speeded up) is very confusing. Let's just say that Stone takes advantage of Cloud's hesitation and the two men, who are handcuffed together, manage to shoot their way out of the warehouse, and escape on Cloud's motorcycle.

Cloud took a bullet in the shoulder and he clings to Stone as they drive away. They hide out in an abandoned shack on a rooftop. Stone takes off his shirt and binds Cloud's wound with it, removes the bullet, and then nurses him back to health. The next scenes literally ooze with homo-eroticism as both men, usually bare to the waist, (and in very close proximity), continually check each other out when the other isn't looking, while hiding out until the coast is clear. This part of the film is executed masterfully.
The sexual tension brews to a boiling point and then finally explodes when Stone sponges Cloud's back as he bathes. They look at each other, kiss, and then suddenly they are all over each other. The photography in the ensuing seduction scene between these two very masculine men, (which was probably eye-popping in Thailand cinemas), resembles a bleached Calvin Klein commercial; set on the rooftop against the Bangkok skyline, it is steamy and sensual, underscored with lush, romantic piano music. But when it's all over, Cloud freaks, throws Stone out and pours water over himself to cleanse away what just happened. The heartbroken Stone returns to his fiancee but things are no longer the same between them.
So far, so good, but the rest of the film goes downhill from there. The famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa was once criticized by his countrymen because his films were supposedly "too Western." This would be an apt critique of the scenes that follow. Director Arnon succumbs here to all of the worst cliches of a low budget Hollywood tearjerker with endless scenes of the men sulking and pining for each other, watching from afar with tears running down their cheeks - all scored to the most God-awful, banal and repetitive New Age piano music you will ever be forced to listen to, making Yanni or John Tesh sound like Rachmaninoff by comparison.

And then come the most contrived coincidences that you can imagine. Picture one of those bad late night, low budget, action movies on Cable TV where all of the principals inexplicably wind up at the same location for an explosive finale and you'll get the idea. Now, I know there is an audience for this sort of thing so I won't give away what happens in the third act except to say that it does not live up to the beautifully crafted initial 30 minutes that had commanded my attention.

On the plus side, the colorful photography is terrific and makes excellent use of the locations and cityscapes of Bangkok. How many films have you seen where a shoot-out takes place in a Buddha statue warehouse? The film is steeped in Thai culture, making for a very exotic filmgoing experience.

I cannot completely dismiss Bangkok Love Story because romantic gay movies are hardly the norm in Thailand and for that, at least, the director should be commended for his courage. I didn't receive any press with my screener and so I did a little research on and Poj Arnon crafted another film, scandalous in its day, called Go-Six (2000) which depicted a love triangle between a man and two women (one of them sexually ambiguous) and in 2003 he directed Cheerleader Queens which featured teen-aged transvestites who want to be cheerleaders. He is currently filming Haunting Me, a horror comedy about three aging queens who battle ghosts in their apartment building.

During pre-production of Bangkok Love Story, the Royal Thai Police objected to the original script where a cop fell in love with an assassin and the Stone character's connection to the police was made more vague in order to pass the Board of Censors. And, you know, straight actors playing gay are the same in Thailand as they are here in America. Rattanaballang Tohssawat, who played Cloud, stated that it was "an honor" to play a gay man while Chaiwat Thongsaeng (Stone) made it clear in interviews that he only wanted the challenge and, mostly, he wanted to become famous (Oscar time!). He found the kissing scenes to be disgusting and pretended that he was kissing his girlfriend. (Remember when Peter Finch was asked in 1971 how he could kiss a man in John Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday, and he replied that he "just closed his eyes and thought of England?")

In closing, I wish I could say that Bangkok Love Story is Thailand's Brokeback Mountain, (I suppose that it is on a conceptual and cultural level, but not on an artistic one) but I would be dishonest if I did. Still, I highly recommend the film for its first half hour before it turns into an endurance test. Southeast Asian gay love stories, after all, are hardly a dime a dozen.