Many lovers of international films perk up when they hear the name Wong Kar Wai. So it was intriguing to hear that the acclaimed Hong Kong director was the producer of the Sundance Film Festival’s opening night Thai drama “One for the Road.”
The movie is gorgeously filmed, has a jazzy/pop soundtrack and features a hunky Thai star, Tor Thanapob. But director Baz Poonpiriya is working from a script that weaves in and out of bad soap-opera melodrama.
The setup for the film is rather familiar. A young man named Aood (Ice Natura) is dying of leukemia, and he wants to make amends with past lovers. But he’s not allowed to drive, so he asks his friend Boss (Thanapob) to be his chauffeur on a weepy farewell tour. Boss, who has wealthy parents, is living in New York, where he owns a bar. But he doesn’t hesitate to fly to Thailand to help his friend.
Aood looks rather pitiful. He has lost his hair and is scarily skinny. But he puts on a wig and pretends he’s okay when meeting his past lovers. He doesn’t tell them he’s dying. He just wants to return something of theirs that he has kept.
This tearjerking approach has some merits, but it goes on far too long in a movie that lasts more than two hours. And at some point, you start to wonder: How did this average-looking guy hook up with such gorgeous, accomplished women?
The film moves back and forth in time, and you see the backstory to all of these romantic relationships. Those stories, however, are not the heart of the film. That lies in the relationship between Aood and Boss — and how they met, and the history of Boss’s romantic life. To say much more would be to spoil the film, but let’s just say that the bar owner has his own relationships to mend.
It’s not hard to understand why Sundance chose this film for opening night. The director is known for his slick stylings, having helmed 2017’s popular “Bad Genius.” And the connection to Wong Kar Wai lends prestige to its international lineup. It’s unclear, however, whether this movie will ever make it to U.S. theaters. It’s more likely to end up on demand.
Although “One for the Road” was somewhat disappointing, two of the festival’s Indie Series projects were excellent. These are in-the-works series that range in running time from 30 minutes to more than an hour.
The first one of note was “These Days,” directed by Adam Brooks. It focuses on a New York City dancer who is holed up in her apartment because of the coronavirus. She’s using her laptop and phone to stay connected, essentially going through what we have all gone through for the past year — being “alone together.”
Marianne Rendon plays the dancer, and she starts trying to virtual date via her laptop, to rather amusingly disastrous effects. But there’s one guy who seems like he might be worthy of her time. But then we find out there’s a rather large complication with the guy — and perfect setup for more episodes.
Another Indie Series offering was “Seeds of Deceit” from Dutch director Miriam Guttman. The documentary focuses on a doctor who ran a sperm bank in the Netherlands and secretly used his own sperm to help make his patients pregnant.
His name was Jan Karbaat, and he was rather famous for his success. He also was one of the few doctors who would accept single women and lesbians as patients. But before his death in 2017, some of the patients started having suspicions about how similar their offspring looked. Most of the women had children with blonde hair, like Karbaat, and similar-looking features, like broad hands. After Karbaat died, however, the families had to go to court to get his DNA from various items at his home.
Eventually, more than 60 people began to realize that they had numerous half-brothers and half-sisters. That realization would be enough for a documentary. Guttman goes a step further, following these siblings as they begin to meet for drinks and discuss their lives. It’s fascinating.
The Austin Film Society has teamed up with Sundance to present a slate of films locally, as well as panels of interest to Texas film lovers. The screenings are taking place at the Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms. For more information, visit austinfilm.org/2021-sundance-film-festival