Wonderful Town, the promising first film by Aditya Assarat, has a great amount of outer spirit, though what it truly lacks is an expressive inner life. Under the clear influence of Tsai Ming-Liang and most especially Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Assarat’s composes his minor love story of a young Bangkok architect and the female owner of a hotel past its prime in the tsunami-ravaged town of Pakua Pak with a lovely, roving and poetic architectonic eye, as well as a sweetness of tone. This is to say that the film looks great, and it goes beyond looking pictorial, Assarat’s camera slowly pushing through half empty spaces (destroyed, rebuilt, abandoned, unused, dead), composing gentle, curious points of view shots, and registering a kind of masked, shell-shocked beauty from the vacuous town and its almost non-existent populace.
And at first, too, Assarat treats his two lovebirds with a kind simplicity and Tsai-like appreciation of erstwhile, wandering couples, each on their own rhythm and life path but always thirsting for the other. Unfortunately, the film barely goes beyond his, and reveals no deeper expression in these people or their town. The spaces seem to be imbued with more history and inner tension than any of the fiction Assarat stages in them, and the plot approaches a cute preciousness (the woman languorously, softly lies in the man’s bed when he is out of town) that, while sweet and empathetic, never seems entirely convincing. Each shot is rendered with skill and consideration, has a light loveliness to it, but never seems fully earned, the expression said and said well, but not believed, not reaching past the surface of the characters. There is little richness beyond this lovely surface, but, at least until the awkwardly divergent ending, Assarat’s film stands beautifully, movingly on its own, and points towards greatness to come.