Hotel Angel (1974)
Malee is a pretty girl born in the remote countryside of Thailand. When a guy tells her he loves her, and she's so beautiful she could be a film star in Bangkok, she elopes with him. To her surprise but not ours, after having his way with her he sells her to a love motel as a prostitute, leaving her trapped and alone with no money. To our surprise and probably hers as well, she takes to the life rather well. Being very pretty, she's very popular with the clients and her employers. But, if life as a prostitute were that easy I'm sure we'd all be doing it, and nobody would bother making a movie about it.
HOTEL ANGEL (just listed as ANGEL on the dvd-case and at ethaicd.com) is the earliest film I've seen by Thailand's maverick Prince Chatree Chalerm Yukol. It's a 70's-tastic drama that looks at the seedier side of life in Bangkok, and the pitfalls out there for young naive girls from the country. Malee's lot in life is nowhere near as grim as that of the girl in Kim Ki Duk's BIRDCAGE INN, for instance, but this isn't exactly PRETTY WOMAN either.
As usual, Prince Chatree Chalerm Yukol (Tan Mui) shows an awareness of the life of the poor and the underclasses that is surprising in a royal, and his Malee character is well defined and easy to relate to. She's perhaps a little too much of an angel to be wholly convincing though. Other characters, such as the pimp played by a young Sorapong Chatree (Tan Mui's Toshiro Mifune), are not given much development beyond their narrative role as villains or whatever. There are some truly nasty people around Malee, quite devoid of morals or compassion. Maybe I'm as naive as she is, but I find it hard to believe that anybody could really be so without principles. Actually I'm sure there are plenty of people like that, and I'm probably very lucky never to have come across them in my own life.
Malee's story is a fairly engaging one, and the world Chatree Chalerm Yukol places her in is a fairly well realised picture of a 1970's Bangkok that I'm sure is pretty accurate. There are few real surprises in the film though, and it doesn't really seem to say very much except "hey, this sort of stuff happens". It's technically well made, but lacking the depth of the Prince's best films. It's good, but not great - not a "must see" movie.
The newly released Thai DVD is advertised as "re-master", but exactly what it means by this isn't clear. It's a non-anamorphic transfer of a very beat up print, without any evidence of remastering such as colour or contrast correction, for instance. There's lots of noise in the picture, which gives the DVD compression a hard time and results in some visible artefacts. The image is presented at an aspect ratio of about 16:9, but is clearly cropped from a presumably 2.35:1 image. This was obvious from the compositions even before the burnt in English subtitles got cropped off the sides It remains watchable despite all this, however, and is about as good as you can expect a Thai DVD of a 1974 film to look.
If you're a Chatree Chalerm Yukol fan, HOTEL ANGEL is definitely worth seeing. If you're not into Thai cinema or this director in particular, there's little chance this film would make you a convert though, so it doesn't get a general recommendation.