Shoot the Piano Player
The international film circuit's favorite Thai director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, shares Jia's love of long, steady takes and complexly layered soundtracks, rich in ambient sound and musical performance. He is concerned with incidents more than plot, atmosphere more than momentum; and like Jia he is particularly interested in the interplay between provincial and city life. That said, Weerasethakul (or, as he likes to be known in the West, Joe) takes you to places that are even stranger than Jia's theme park.
Tropical Malady is set alternately in Bangkok and the jungle, with a narrative that is realistic at first and then folkloric. What makes the film so odd and fascinating is the way the two supposedly separate realms seep into each other.
Part one might be described as a love story, in which a young soldier named Keng (Banlop Lomnoi) and an unemployed former soldier named Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee) hook up in Bangkok, then continue their affair on a trip to the country, where Tong's mother lives. Part two, which begins almost before you know it, has Keng patrolling the jungle on his own, hunting and being hunted by a man-eating tiger, who is actually the ghost of a shape-shifting shaman. When not portrayed by a real tiger, the latter character is played by the actor who was Tong, now naked except for geometric designs painted on his body.
If you're sensitive to green--lots and lots of green--and the sounds of God knows what stirring in the foliage, then the hourlong hunting sequence of Tropical Malady will work on you until it's almost hallucinatory. And yet, even when the monkeys overhead start chattering intelligible advice to Keng, you may feel that his situation hasn't radically changed. The first part of the film was already full of spooky rumors, mysterious legends, wondrous underground shrines. By the end of part two, you're left wondering whether Keng has just been experiencing the inner meaning of his love affair, or whether Tong in Bangkok had really been a ghost tiger shaman, trying to lure Keng to his lair.
If you no longer care about the difference, then you've come down successfully with Tropical Malady.