Kru Somsri (Teacher Somsri)
Reviewed by Simon Booth
Director: Prince Chatree Chalerm Yukol
Stars: Ron Ritthichai, Chalita Puttamapun,
Time: 117 minutes
Somsri is a teacher in one of Bangkok's slums,
teaching the slum kids as best she can in a beat up old building with no
budget for equipment or books etc. At the time the film was made
(or is set), 1/5th of Bangkok's population was apparently living in slums.
I have no idea if the situation has improved since. Somsri is also the
leader of a slum committee, organized primarily to fight the property development
company that is trying to evict the people from their homes. Somsri is
idealistic, proud and strong-headed and determined to organize the residents
and fight the company every step of the way. Unfortunately, many or most
of the residents are reluctant to fight, accepting the idea that as slum
people they have no rights and can't possibly win against a big corporation.
The fight is a difficult one as the company is not afraid to use nasty
tactics against the people that stand in the way of their profits.
Once again, Prince Chatree Chalerm Yukol chooses
to tell a story of Thailand's poor and dispossessed, in a piece of social
criticism that is pretty harsh about the Thai government (I guess the royal
family and the government don't get along well). The poor folk in
the film are certainly not idealized, though the value of keeping one's
dignity is, and the greedy capitalists are definitely demonized.
The film is played very straight, and is perhaps
over-serious at times in its pursuit of depicting hardship it feels slightly
manipulative. Although an attempt is made to personalize the story by focusing
on Somsri, none of the characters feel rounded or fully developed except
perhaps the old drunken teacher that runs the school. Characters
seem to exist basically to serve the purpose of making the social statements
the Prince wants to make.
Despite the lack of depth in the characters, the
cast gives good performances. Somsri's fierce and bull-headed persona
is well realized by the actress that plays her, and it's largely this that
makes the film enjoyable. The direction is solid, as usual. The soundtrack
is very good, and adds a lot to the film.
Perhaps it's just that I'm fatigued from too much
suffering in his films, but it does seem to me that I'm not enjoying the
more recent releases from the Prince as much as the earliest ones that
I saw such as Gunman and Elephant Keeper or perhaps it's just that I saw
the best of his work first. Whilst Kru Somsri is a pretty good film, it's
definitely not a must-see unless social drama is your particular thing.
The recently released Thai DVD is similar to the
other releases of Tan Mui films, a fairly faded and worn print that probably
went through a VHS phase at some point. It's watchable but not one to show
off your home theatre with. The subtitles are rather disappointing, in
that they're clearly a minimalist translation of what's being said (quite
a few things get no translation at all, others a few words to cover a few
sentences). There are also several places where they're badly synchronized
with the dialog, making it difficult to follow who is saying what.
They're sufficient to follow what is going on though.
Overall score: 7/10