There is so much mystery in human desire and in the darkness where dreams and memories merge. This mesmerizing Thai film written and directed by Apichatpong Weersasethakul demands our complete attentiveness as it moves gracefully from a love story into a mythological journey in a jungle populated by a fierce tiger, a talking monkey, and the spirit of a dead cow. The most effective scenes take place at night when we are forced to see in the dark. Admittedly, many people dread the dark and unwilling to adapt to its strange rhythms and challenges; they will probably find this film to be too opaque for their tastes. Those who savor mysteries will find the twofold journey enticing.
In the strange opening scene, a man's body is found in the jungle by a group of young soldiers. They are intrigued with this discovery and take pictures of themselves gathered around the corpse. The mystery of death reaches into our psyches and cuts deep. Keng (Banlop Lomnoi), one of the soldiers, is attracted to Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee), a youth who lives in the country with his family. Together they go to a movie, take his sick dog to a clinic, and visit an underground Buddhist temple. Keng is unhinged by this shy boy with a pleasant smile and in the film's most erotic scene, he doesn't have sex with him but receives a tender response to one of his advances.
In the second segment of Tropical Malady, Keng ventures into the jungle after several cows are found dead. As he enters this space that is akin to a dream, the tiger becomes a naked Wildman who occasionally lets out scary howls. The journey draws out his fears and his desires in a primitive environment where animals are in charge.
The writer and director has said of his film: "When we close our eyes, of course, we see darkness. But if we stare at this darkness long enough, we will see something. The image comes from within, from the mind. This is what I wanted to apply to Tropical Malady a mind from one world adjusting to another world. The soldier can see images from the other side and also sees himself. He is on the border." Come to the border and let the images within you rise to the surface of your mind.
DVD features include Audio Commentary with director Apichatpong Weerasethakul and film critic Chuck Stephens, Deleted Scenes, and storyboards.
Screened at the 42nd New York Film Festival, October 2004