Exotic but not erotic.
“The Story of Jan Dara” is a very well known Thai novel published in 1966. Due to its steamy sex passages, the book was considered unfilmable in Thailand for many years, but more relaxed attitudes have allowed young Thai director Nonzee Nimibutr to overcome all that with his recent adaptation — Jan Dara. The story takes place mainly in 1930s Bangkok and concerns a young man named Jan Dara whose mother died while giving birth to him. He is in an environment that exposes him continually to both his father’s hatred of him and his father’s generous sexual appetite for all the women that live in his home compound. In his adolescence, Jan Dara is forced to leave the compound when his father wrongly accuses him of molesting his step-sister. Several years later he returns and agrees to marry his now-pregnant step-sister, but he extracts a price from his father for doing so — title to the compound. Now essentially following in his father’s footsteps, the question is whether he will repeat his father’s mistakes.
When this film was completed, it was one of those titles beloved by film festival programmers — directed by a young up-and-comer, possessed of an exotic setting and a seemingly offbeat story, and “with a little sex in it” (with apologies to Sullivan’s Travels) — resulting in “official selection” status at the London, Toronto, and Vancouver film festivals. But as with many films, “official selection” status does not a good film make. This is one of those pretentious foreign films that tries to use its exotic locale and generous doses of sex to mask the fact that its story is trite and predictable. Despite this, the film might have been saved had director Nimibutr been able to engage the audience in the story, but we never feel like more than distant observers. Aside from one sensuous scene involving Jan Dara, his father’s new wife, and an ice cube, all the sexual encounters are repetitive and photographed from far enough away that they all seem more like clinical examinations than anything else. On the plus side, the production is polished-looking with good attention to set detail and some of the cast members excel, particularly Christy Chung as Khun Boolueang (the father’s new wife).
Seville’s DVD is another in the company’s recent string of good-looking transfers. It’s a 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation that is quite film-like. The image is clear and bright with good shadow detail, and is virtually free of any edge effects. The sound is a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround Thai track with optional subtitles in both English and French. Use of the surrounds is restricted to subtle ambient sounds and otherwise does a more than adequate job with the dialogue-driven film. The original theatrical trailer is included in a trailer gallery for Seville releases that also includes Pandaemonium, Love Street (Rue des plaisirs), and Late Marriage.
It all adds up to a fine, if bare bones, release of a not-so-fine film.