New York’s disgraced former congressmen and governors embark on their next vice
tour of Thailand, they ought to give some thought to the women working in
Bangkok’s redlight district. Sa is one of them, but the extent of her nightclub
work is kept somewhat ambiguous in Visra Vichit-Vadakan’s docu-fiction hybid Karaoke Girl (trailer here), which screens
during the 2014 San Francisco Indie Fest.
Sittijun essentially plays herself, a pure-hearted country girl, who came to
the city to provide for her family. Initially, she really did work in a
factory, but when it closed she was forced to take a hostess job in a karaoke
bar. Of course, her family still thinks she is cracking eggs on the assembly
line. It is probably more tiring work at the club, requiring constant
maintenance. Due to the late hours, Sa also often has close contact with dodgy
sorts. In fact, crime is a very real occupational hazard.
all the hardships she endures, Sa gives alms with great frequency. She also
sends money home quite regularly and returns periodically to drag her ailing
father to the doctor. In short, she
deserves better than the lot she drew in life, most definitely including her
unreliable lover, Ton. One can only hope the Thai release for Karaoke and its success on the
international film festival circuit will lead to better things for Sittijun.
Vichit-Vadakan had up close and personal access to Sittijun’s life (or at least
a revealing approximation of it). Yet, since she mostly avoids the lurid
aspects of the redlight business, it does not feel as intrusive as it might.
Instead, we come to understand “bar girls” must spend time on their laundry and
pursue problematic relationships, just like everyone else.
Karaoke is the sort of visually
arresting docu-straddler These Birds Walk
was supposed to be, but fell short of. For one thing, Sa is a far more
engaging (and even sympathetic) focal character. Also, the rural backdrops and
nocturnal city scenes are considerably more striking than Birds’ visuals. Great credit is due to co-cinematographers Chananum
Chotrungroj and the American executive producer, Sandi Sissel (whose credits
also include Salam Bombay) for
maintaining an intimate focus on Sa, but still capturing a powerful sense of
matter how much of her actual life is reflected on screen, Sittijun expresses a
whole lot of emotional truth. Quiet but powerful, with a surprisingly spiritual
dimension, Karaoke Girl is
recommended for all those concerned with the condition of working women (broadly
defined) in the developing world. It screens at the New Parkway Theater (in
Oakland) this Thursday (2/20) as part of this year’s SF Indie Fest.
Labels: Documentary, SF Indie Fest '14, Thai Film