Monday, August 27, 2012

JIMFF 2012: The Moon (พุ่มพวง, Pumpuang, Thailand) 2011

Part of MKC's coverage of the Jecheon Intl. Music & Film Festival.

Generally speaking I’m not a huge fan of music biopics. As the Jecheon film festival has proven (or not in some instances), musicians tend to make better documentary subjects. With the latter format you can improvise and approach their life and work from a variety of angles. By staging a full blown narrative feature, you’re assuming that the musician has a life that is worth the film treatment. Very often this is not the case. While musicians lead very interesting lives, these rarely amount to a good feature-length narrative.

The Moon is about Pumpuang Duangjang, the queen of Thai country (luktung) music. Born in poverty, Pumpuang worked hard to get herself taken in as an apprentice by an established musician in Bangkok and quickly made a name for herself with her powerful voice among a male-dominated scene. The film chronicles her steady rise and later her battle with illness, all the while exploring her marriage as she grows more famous and distant.

From a production standard there is little to fault the film for. It is a well mounted effort which takes pains to bring to life the bustling city and music scene as well as the peaceful countryside it contrasts with. It’s a prestige production, respectable in its design but while it starts out well enough, it slowly descends into mawkish sentimentalism as it ambles through a very predictable stable of narrative devices.

The film really begins to drag around the halfway point as it becomes padded with repetitive scenes that become more kitsch and saccharine as we near the eventual conclusion. I suppose that part of the problem for me was the music itself which I didn’t warm to but that just comes down to personal preference. It’s true that if you watch a music biopic based on a subject whose work you do not enjoy it becomes necessarily more difficult to enjoy it. That reservation aside, I still think The Moon is a lackluster effort that frankly becomes silly near the end.

At first it was reserved and even-handed but by the end, I was stunned by some of film’s over-the-top staging. Not to mention its garish clothing: I asked myself how could a costume designer put their name to this. However, as the end credits rolled, which features real life footage of Pumpuang, I noticed that these were in fact the costumes that she wore during some of her notable TV apearances. Even so, I think this is the kind of instance where you should avail of your artistic license!


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