Veteran actress Bongkod Bencharongkul – aka Bongkod Tak Kongmalai – has undergone the ultimate transformation in her cinematic career with the release of her second directorial attempt Sad Beauty. She has now proved to the world her new talent as one of the most notable emerging female directors in the country.
A female-centred film noir, Sad Beauty explores the friendship of two childhood friends who struggle to survive in modern society. A famous model, Yo hopelessly hangs out day and night with no aims in life. She earns a lot of money, but fails to make friends with anybody in showbiz. She relies on her best friend Pim, but Pim is beset by eye cancer and a violent step-father. One day, Pim finds her beaten unconscious mother in her stepfather’s living room, culminating in a fight in which the step-father is killed. Pim has to try everything to get rid of his body. The two friends decide to drive to get help from her mother’s ex-boyfriend. The nightmare shakes their relationship; friendship is the only cure.
Sad Beauty, is partly a road-movie, partly horror and partly drama, with a strong sense of silent brutality. Many scenes – for example, the destruction of the step-father’s body – are stunningly constructed, so harsh and forceful – almost sickening – as to make it hard to imagine that the work was crafted by female hands. But director Bencharongkul has also crafted her story of women in a patriarchal world with detail and delicacy. The script is embroidered with complexity. Instead of employing the lesbianism which is popular in Thailand’s contemporary film culture, the director emphasises strong friendship, communicated primarily through dialogue. Intimacy infuses the film, as richly as you find only in female pictures.
Utilising the producing assistance of cult film director Kongkiat Khomsiri (Slice, Take Me Home), the film’s mise-en-scene, cinematography and lighting are richly constructed with forceful complexities of meaning. Bird’s-eye-view angles are often employed, perhaps to signify the patriarchal control surrounding the protagonists. Handheld camera is often used to stress the convulsive sensibilities and feelings of being female in Thai society. Most important are the brilliant performances of the actors playing Yo and Pim. The director has smartly employed her own experiences to elevate the performances to among the biggest achievements in this movie.
In short, this is one of the most compelling Thai movies in recent years, with complexities that go beyond common gender politics. It proves that female relationships can be tackled without invoking homosexuality. Sometimes simple friendship wins out.
Bongkod Bencharongkul (Bongkod Kongmalai – her maiden name and acting name before being married) – better known in Thailand as Tak Bongkod – started her acting career in 2000, the early days of the New Thai Cinema era, when she was only fifteen. For Sahamongkol Film, she starred in more than twenty movies, including the blockbusters Tom Yumam Goong (2003), The Eye 10 (2003) and Jan Dara (2013), plus several television series. She made her directorial debut in 2013 with Angels, which was critically praised by critics. Sad Beauty is her second feature, but her first as an independent writer-director-producer.
2013 – Angels
2018 – Sad Beauty