BIFF 2014 #6: Karaoke Girl (Sao Karaoke, Thailand-US 2013)

Sa Sittijun, the 'Karaoke Girl'

Sa Sittijun, the ‘Karaoke Girl’

Portrait Without BleedIt’s one of the most familiar tales told in any culture approaching ‘modernity’ – a young and attractive girl leaves her home in a rural village and travels to the city where eventually she drifts (or is coerced) into work that she would rather not tell her parents about. She sends money home, partly out of guilt and partly because she misses aspects of home. At some point she travels home and lives a lie. Back in the city she has a woman friend and an unreliable boyfriend. We’ve all seen that story on the big screen and it’s repeated here. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth watching again.

Introducing the film Michael Pattison told us that the director Visra Vichit-Vadakan has a wealthy American partner and that explains the film’s identity. However, the film feels ‘local’ rather than international. As in most films of this type, the central performance is very important. Sa Sittijun is excellent in the role and the Pressbook reveals that she is acting alongside her real family in the village in what is at heart her own story. The film began as a documentary and several documentary traits have remained. There is an extensive use of voiceover as Sa remembers her childhood playing by the river and on other occasions we hear her replying to an invisible interviewer and explaining her actions and what has happened to her in her move to the city. The ‘observational documentary’ approach is most evident in the scenes showing her return to her village.

The film looks and sounds good but watching it on the IMAX screen (which the festival uses with a conventional projection shown in the centre of the giant screen) it did seem that perhaps it was shot on a lower resolution digital camera as the image was a little soft and some clarity was lost. However, I enjoyed the film and though it doesn’t offer anything new it does give an insight into aspects of life in Thailand. The scenes in the city are not as exploitative as the title suggests. The village footage is colourful and engaging and in terms of the contradiction between nostalgia for a childhood by the river and fear of entrapment in a limited life, both engaging and revealing.

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