Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s glossy, decidedly lurid Samui Song may be an ingeniously executed neo-noir, crypto-noir or meta-noir, or a knowing combination of all three. But, as is often the risk with such self-reflexive exercises, it’s not always easy to tell whether it is genre conventions or audience credibility that are being mocked, and Samui Song ultimately comes across as a slightly lofty venture in bad faith, refusing to pay off our investment in the drama.
Interracial love, religious cults, hi-so culture (Thai high society) and an appetite for raw offal enrich and distract Thai auteur Pen-ek Rataranuang’s classic noir about a marriage turned murderous. Mystery and danger percolate in “Samui Song” all the way till the elliptical ending, which leaves audiences with a sense of lingering disquiet. However, there’s a certain spark missing both from the characters and the overall muffled tone.
Six years after his last fiction film Headshot (during which time he made Paradoxocrazy, a documentary chronicling Thailand’s political history), Thai auteur Pen-ek Ratanaruang returns to the festival circuit in fine form. At times noir-ish, at times cheeky, and at times a little too self-aware, Samui Song thriller surfs in and out between straight genre exercise and winking critique of many things: blind faith, crypto-Buddhism, marriage, filmmaking, patriarchal oppression.