Film Review - Hi-So

Newly returned from studying abroad, Ananda (Ananda Everingham) is filming on location in Thailand. He plays an amnesiac, trying to rebuild his memory and identity after having survived the 2004 tsunami. The setting is the ruin of an old hotel destroyed in the disaster. Ananda’s good at his role but occasionally struggles with the correct Thai pronunciation, betraying his privileged background and an international education.

His American girlfriend Zoe (Cerise Leang) comes to visit and stays nearby in a five star beach resort. It’s low season, there are no guests at the hotel, and Ananda is too busy shooting and learning his lines to pay her much attention. Alone, Zoe soon becomes listless. Bored in paradise and tired of hanging out on the film set, she befriends the hotel staff and even attends the maid’s birthday party. When it comes time for Zoe to leave, the cracks in her relationship with Ananda have become crevasses.

After Zoe’s departure, Ananda becomes involved with May (Sajee Apiwong) who is working on the production side of his film. Like Zoe, she is beautiful and intelligent. The action shifts to the city. May lives with Ananda in the luxury apartment block owned by his wealthy mother. One side, we discover, has been decimated by the tsunami and is only slowly being rebuilt. Another part of the ruined building has been sold off to developers.

‘Hi-So’ is short for High Society. Ananda is certainly of that ilk; young, rich and aimless. Ananda and May laugh and play together but something fundamental is missing from their relationship – the nearest the couple come to properly connecting is when they adopt a stray dog. Like Zoe, May is unable to adapt to the culturally diverse worlds that Ananda drifts between and finds it hard to bond with his brash American friends.

Umpornpol Yugala’s cinematography is impressive. Although Hi-So is lushly shot, and the Thai landscape (much of it devastated by the 2004 disaster) is as much a part of the film as the characters, Aditya Assarat’s script may prove too ponderous for British audiences. He offers a vivid portrait of contemporary life in Thailand but female viewers, in particular, may be disappointed that Zoe and May are such disempowered characters. They are easily discarded by Ananda who seems incapable of settling down or offering his girlfriends more than a warm bed.

Consequently, it is hard to sympathise with Ananda’s sense of alienation – a central theme of the film. He is not entirely at ease either in Thailand or amongst his American buddies. However, his feelings of cultural displacement are too superficial. Assarat never gets fully under his protagonist’s skin and consequently Ananda feels sketchily drawn; like the film he is beautiful to watch but ultimately an empty vessel.

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