Set in Bangkok, the film is aimed squarely at Western viewers and Western quirks
Having successfully opened this month’s fourth Bangkok Asean Film Festival, “Eullenia” – a love letter to Thailand – is having its overseas premiere at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival in South Korea.
Next up is wide release in Thailand and then screenings in Europe and North America.
British director Paul Spurrier’s picture presents a dark psychological exploration of personal tragedy, desperation, loneliness, self-destruction and capitalism on acid.
He’s achieved a milestone in Thai cinema – an independent movie set in Bangkok that juxtaposes East with the West and features enthralling Italian Renaissance music by Thailand’s preeminent composer, Somtow Sucharitkul.
Authenticity, rawness and passion permeate this genre-defying film, which illuminates the mind of a haunted man who finds pleasure in agony.
Ferociously portrayed by Scottish actor Alec Newman (“Dune”, 2000), Marcus Hammond is a ruthless billionaire who runs his business on simple principles while moonlighting as a mysterious sadist.
With the help of his sycophantic servant Boo, played with cool reserve by Vithaya Pansringarm (“Only God Forgives”), Hammond embarks on nocturnal cruises around Bangkok in a black van in search of naive Thai women to whom he makes a startling offer.
He yearns for the macabre allure of pain and the release that can be obtained only from the presence of death.
The protagonist in “Eullenia” was inspired by the lurid life of the late Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, whose idiosyncratic music figures prominently in the movie, most memorably during a terrifying dinner scene.
Maestro Somtow and the Calliope Chamber Choir did a magnificent job breathing new life into Gesualdo’s notoriously challenging madrigals. That they are the first musicians in Thailand to have recorded these offbeat and obscure works adds to Somtow’s accomplishment.
Spurrier wrote the original score. His music blends seamlessly into the seedy bowels of Bangkok. Sombre strings play a haunting theme during breathtaking nighttime aerial and street shots.
Thanks to the score and immersive cinematography, the City of Angels becomes a crucial character. Spurrier shows the real Bangkok that escapes most travellers. The viewers who inhabit, have visited or plan a trip to Thailand’s vibrant metropolis will find “Eullenia” doubly intriguing.
Established Hollywood producers David Cluck (“The Artist”), Jeffrey Calman (Warner Home Video), Robert Neft (“Apt Pupil”), and Brian Askew (“Fermosa Betrayed”) gave the director creative freedom, including casting untested talent.
“Eullenia” introduces three budding Thai actresses who dazzle with their innocence. Spurrier is gifted at handling subtle moments and eliciting raw life from his players. The Bangkok-based director worked again with an entirely Thai crew, following his previous features, “P” (2005) and “The Forest” (2016), which dealt with the supernatural.
If for no other reason, see “Eullenia” to be moved by Apicha Suyanandana, who brings rare fragility to her role. She is Nam, a pure soul who makes an impossible choice. When she smiles, we forget we are watching a movie. When she cries, she reaches our humanity.
Aomkham Natchanok is another discovery. She gives Lek both vulnerability and a fierce, independent spirit.
Manatsanun Phanlerdwongsakul shines in a brief cameo role as the journalist Kirstie.
Spurrier, who is fluent in Thai, has Thai characters speak mostly in their native language. Hollywood’s linguistic cop-outs have no place in “Eullenia”, and little quirks in the script reflect each character’s identity.
In an acting masterclass near the end, Alec Newman delivers a shattering Machiavellian monologue that unveils Hammond’s philosophy.
On one level, the film works as an allegory: it exposes the decadence of the West and challenges its arrogant claim to cultural supremacy. Westerners who come to Thailand thinking they are superior to Thais and can buy their Land of Smiles receive a rude awakening.
The final scene retains mystery. There is much potential for the story to continue. Despite its dark tone, “Eullenia” is a love letter to Thailand aimed at international audiences. Dates for further Thai screenings have yet to be announced.