A Japanese cook living in Hong Kong kills his boss's wife (by request) and takes some money and forged papers on a long cruise to Phuket. On board the strangely deserted ship he meets a lively young woman with a small baby.

INVISIBLE WAVES was Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's follow-up to Last Life in the Universe, and can be considered something of a companion piece. Tadanobu Asano returns in the lead role and Christopher Doyle returns behind the camera, whilst Kang Hye-Jung (Welcome To Dongmakgol) is a welcome new face.

Most of the film isn't set in Thailand, it starts off in Hong Kong and the cruise takes up most of the first half. Dialogue is primarily in Japanese or English, there's hardly any Thai spoken at all... it might even be none. This is probably why it was controversially withdrawn as Thailand's official submission to the Oscars.

Tadanobu Asano's character is less obviously suicidal here, but he is similarly unmoored by events - literally as well as psychologically this time. His performance is muted, his character withdrawn and uninvolved. Kang Hye-Jung provides some contrast, being altogether more engaged with life and forcing him to engage too... at least a bit. In the version I have (Panorama DVD) the two meet on board the ship and bump into each other again in Phuket but there is no suggestion of a romantic relationship - the plot summary at Asianwiki claims otherwise, and the image gallery contains some stills that seem to support it, but which aren't from scenes that are in the version I watched. Maybe they're from an earlier version and Ratanaruang decided to cut them to leave it ambiguous.

Without any such developments there isn't much going on for a large part of the film, the journey is not particularly eventful. That seems in keeping with Kyoji's mental state though and it gives the film a similar flavour to LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE, an almost ambient ride along with Kyoji as he processes his situation. In LLITU there is a bond that forms between the two main characters though, and without that here there is less to latch onto, less emotional depth or resonance.

Things become more eventful upon arrival in Phuket, though Kyoji remains detached even as things take an entirely foreseeable turn (to us, if not to him). We return to Hong Kong for a final act that is the film's most tense section, where we get to see inside Kyoji's mind a bit more, and events come to a head.

I have to say that I do kind of wish there was more passion in the film, that it was more explicit and that Asano's performance had more life to it... it's a bit too minimalist for its own good in its current form. The cinematography is quite lovely (though the Panorama DVD is more muted and murky than seems reasonable) and the soundtrack is effective - sparse ambient electronics that are so omnipresent you stop noticing they're there. If you're into its vibe then you'll probably get along with INVISIBLE WAVES fine, but if it doesn't click it's probably going to be excruciating.

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