February (2003) Movie Review

I’ve been meaning to watch more Thai films, mostly because the industry has obviously improved in recent years. The quality of films has increased and so has the level of competence in regards to storylines that don’t make you groan with embarrassment for the filmmakers. We can see the improvements in the works of the Pang brothers (“Bangkok Dangerous” and “The Eye”), as well as Arthouse fav Nonzee Nimibutr (“Jan Dara” and “Nang Nak”).

So it is with burgeoning respect that we take a look at “February”, a Thai film shot mostly on location in New York City. The movie stars Sopitnapa Dabbaransi as Kaewta, a failed artist suffering from Movie Terminal Illness that gives her only a few months to live. Seeking escape from her miserable existence, Kaewta seeks solace in New York City, where fate intervenes by way of a series of events that ends with Kaewta getting hit by a car and developing Movie Amnesia. The driver of the car is Jeeradech (Shahkrit Yamnarm), a Thai expatriate who was driving a getaway car being pursued by armed gangsters.

Post-accident, Kaewta has no idea who she is or why she has come to New York City. This is a particularly bad coincidence because she’s scheduled to undergo an important surgery back in Thailand that may very well save her life — only she can’t remember it! Feeling guilty for the accident, criminal-on-the-crossroads Jeeradech takes it upon himself to help Kaewta, although one suspects he’s lost his own direction in life. Jeeradech himself plans on escaping back to Thailand for personal reasons, but that plan was put on hold when a Chinatown gangster confiscates his passport to keep him on the payroll, rather he wants to or not.

First of all, you’ll have to forgive “February” for its use of Movie Terminal Illness, because otherwise the film couldn’t put such an exact time table on the life of its female lead. You’ll also have to overlook the film’s many plot contrivances, such as the presence of an American art designer who shows up only for the purpose of springing money toward the needy Kaewta and Jeeradech. The duo, you see, lives in Jeeradech’s condemned building of an apartment and has no money to return to Thailand or to purchase their fake passports. (It also doesn’t help that the American actor is simply atrocious.)

If you could see your way into forgiving “February” for its oh-so-convenient plotlines, then you’ll be treated to a worthwhile film. Writer/director Yuthlert Sippapak shows such amazing attention to detail that one can’t help but be utterly impressed. The movie is a series of carefully staged shots, each one more impressive than the previous. A sequence that takes place in black and white and involves snow is probably the film’s pinnacle of achievement. The movie as a whole has a dream-like quality to it, with every frame drenched in somber beauty and the inevitable doomed nature of its two main characters.

Another noteworthy element of “February” is Sippapak’s careful use of sound. As was the case with the imagery, the sound work here is nothing sort of amazing. It’s common to hear the sound change between shots within a single scene. It’s obviously a lot of work on the part Sippapak and his sound editor, and one wonders why they even bothered. Although the final product is quite remarkable, surely the bulk of the film’s viewing audience won’t even notice. Still, for those who want to hear incredible deliberate use of sound, “February” is a clinic on how to do it correctly.

“February” is by no means a low-budget movie. The production value is very high, and there are no scenes that give the impression the filmmakers had to resort to guerilla filmmaking. And while the script presents the two main characters with maturity and care, Shahkrit Yamnarm clearly outshines his co-star. As the amnesiac, Sopitnapa Dabbaransi is mostly required to shuffle to and fro and look really confused. Although later on the script reverses her position with her caretaker, making her the caretaker and Jeeradech the victim. As the doomed criminal whose life is a series of ill-advised decisions, Yamnarm brings an air of somber intensity to every scene he’s in. The young man is simply a natural and gifted actor.

Although “February” makes an attempt to involve the Chinatown underworld in its storylines, the subplots involving the Chinese gangsters are nothing more than background noise. Sippapak has so little interest in really exploring this element that much of “February’s” forays into NYC’s underworld rings false and reeks of impersonations of Hollywood. But of course we can’t completely ignore the noise, especially since we know, with absolute certainty, that Jeeradech’s involvement in “the life” will eventually come back to haunt him. Movies of this nature never ends any other way. It’s simply a given.

In conclusion: “February” should have shaved off its final 15 minutes. Had the movie ended at the 90-minute mark, as it should have, the film would have left the audience with a painful and ironic twist of fate that will surely haunt them. Instead, Sippapak makes the mistake of tacking on an extra 15 minutes, and as a result the film lost much of its punch.

Yuthlert Sippapak (director) / Yuthlert Sippapak (screenplay)
CAST: Sopitnapa Dabbaransi …. Kaewta
Joe S. Lee …. Jackie
Shahkrit Yamnarm …. Jeeradech

Buy February on DVD