No doubt this is the first film about the ranad ek, a traditional Thai music instrument something like a small xylophone set in a wooden hammock. (Lionel Hampton, with his double-mallet grip, would have loved it.) A fact-inspired drama built around the life of ranad ek master Luang Pradit Pairoh, called Sorn in the film, the story bounces back & forth between early years when his obvious talents were jeopardized by a rebellious attitude; and late years as an honored teacher & statesman when he took a stand against government modernization codes that used military force to ban native classical music.* Luckily, the culture, history & music, barely known in the West, holds enough interest to ride out a by-the-numbers treatment from director Ittisoontorn Vichailak. And the time shifts, meant to enliven the clichés, only make the personal relationships less involving, even confusing. A son comes home from study abroad with a piano & a jazz influenced style of playing, but since this relationship is new to the film, the pay off when Dad finds a bit of a groove on his ranad ek is weightless. It’s like that all thru the film, and no amount of speedy tracking shots into Close-Ups can hide the impersonal tone. Though it does allow Vichailak to show off Anuchit Sapanpong, the model-worthy young man with an Audrey Hepburn neck who plays young Sorn.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *A more positive sign of cultural modernization is the reduction in betel nut consumption that blackens the teeth of so many characters in the sequences set during Sorn’s youth.