“Bangkok Nites” is the fourth film of Japanese director Katsuya Tomita, in a Japanese – Thai – Laotian production taking place mainly in Bangkok. This film has been screened in several film festivals around the world, being first released in the Locarno Film Festival and in the Busan International Film Festival.
The story revolves around this Thai girl named Luck (Subenja Pongkorn), a sex worker. She actually is a high-class escort who earns enough money so she can take care of her family from distance, and she also is considered the number 1 girl in her brothel. Now, this brothel only receives exclusively Japanese customers residing in Bangkok. One day, she comes across this Japanese guy named Ozawa (director Katsuya Tomita) who was an old client with whom she had fallen in love in the past. This Japanese man, an ex-soldier who fought in the Japanese Army, is actually broke and resides in Bangkok due to the economic crisis his country is living. This encounter allows both of them to get to know each other again.
Tomita deals with such current issues of the contemporary society such as unemployment, foreign exploitation and sex trafficking; in addition to the inner demons people have. Everybody fights his own battles secretly, in real life, and in “Bangkok Nites”. The director films this story with extreme delicacy and total artfulness. The immersion of the story is real since minute one. Visuals and dialogue complement each other perfectly, and the naturalistic direction of Tomita is transferred directly to the actors. That is, there are no astounding performances, neither from the main characters nor from the secondary ones, meaning that all of them are natural as life itself.
Technically, “Bangkok Nites” feels like witnessing real events, and that is saying much. The film is shot as a documentary, mixing a number of good elements from both reality and fiction. The cinematography by Masahiro Mukoyama and Takuma Furuya is well planned and conceived. Some of the locations are really beautiful to look. Also, the catchy music composed by Young-G and Soi48 adds some enthusiasm to the film, although the majority of the music is dietetic.
Having said that, the three-hour length of the film can be a bit excessive. The story themes and messages are crystal clear, but they could have been equally clear with less run-time, as they seem to expand on the second half of the film, and the pacing feels slower. Slow pacing isn’t generally a bad thing, but if it is justified in favor of the story, it clearly benefits the narrative structure and the whole experience. If the screenwriters Toranosuke Aizawa and Katsuya Tomita had condensed the story more, the film would have been more lively and satisfying.
Overall, “Bangkok Nites” is a charming art-house film that’s worth the watch, although it might have benefited from a shorter run time.