jan dara (2002)


director: nonzee nimibutr

suwinit panjamawat, eakarat sarsukh, christy chung

The world of Nonzee Nimibutr's Jan Dara is a blighted one, in spite of the overgrown, lush beauty of the wealthy Thai suburb where this torrid melodrama is set. The film, based on a bestselling novel, is set in that soap opera universe where characters act without apparent restraint or moral second thoughts, a titillating place with no dramatic pay-off. After all, it's hard to feel sympathy for people who are distinguishable only by their relative levels of beastliness.

The "hero" who gives the film it's title is named, quite literally, "cursed", the unfavored son of Khun Luang, a man who runs his home like a sqalid harem. As played over the course of twenty or so years by two actors, Suwinit Panjamawat and Eakarat Sarsukh, Jan goes from a defensive, bruised innocence to cold cruelty as a result of the torment he receives at the hands of Khun Luang and his daughter, Khun Kaew. It's Kaew who gets him banished from the family compound as a teenager, and it's her pregnancy that brings him back years later to become her husband, a plotline that's typical of soap opera logic.

The young Jan's only solace at the house is Boonlueang (Hong Kong actress Christy Chung), Khun Luang's sexy second wife, with whom he resumes his affair upon returning to take over Khun Luang's house. Why the older man cedes not only the deed to his house, but his favorite wife and daughter, to the man he hates most in the world is a bit of plot logic that we're asked to ignore. After all, there's so much else going on within the walls of the compound.

There's the copious sex, for instance, which guarantees that almost every scene in the film's first half seems to begin with two characters rutting sweatily beneath mosquito netting, in the half-light that manages to pierce the thick palm trees. There's a lot of sex, to be sure, but Jan Dara is a resolutely unsexy film, and the character study on which it's based - Jan's inevitable transformation into a man as cruel and immoral as Khun Luang - is "ironic" in the most mechanical way, all the less compelling as Jan was never anything but a moral weakling in the first place. A really unpleasant piece of work, in almost every way.