Thai director Aditya Assarat’s debut film, Wonderful Town (2007), saw a quiet romance set amidst a community mourning in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. Whilst his sophomore feature does shift away from it slightly, Hi-So (2010) – and its first half in particular – is still haunted by the spectre of that devastating natural disaster. Meditatively taking in both an eerily desolate seafront and similarly deserted husk in Bangkok, it is perhaps through the settings that Assarat tries to convey his thoughts on the high society (hi-so) types of the title. The action opens in a derelict coastal hotel where American educated actor, Ananda (Ananda Everingham), is hooting a film.
On the shoot he is visited by his college girlfriend, Zoe (Cerise Leang), but as long and lonely days roll by, they slowly drift apart. At the mid-point the setting leaps forward several months to Bangkok where Ananda is now dating May (Sajee Apiwong). It is slowly revealed that he is from a very wealthy family and the couple live on an upper floor of an otherwise uninhabited apartment building. Their life is equally lonely and it becomes clear that their flame too is sputtering.
Assarat uses his narrative’s two central women to illustrate the inaccessibility of the typical denizen of Thailand’s ‘hi-so’. Ananda is oddly distant with Zoe, and she is left rattling around an entirely vacant hotel each and every day with only the staff for company. Before it can be concluded that this is down to long hours or a cultural divide, the hotel staff make an awkward effort to include her in their socialising. May’s relationship with Ananda also highlights the differences in terms of social status as she is unused to owning the biggest building in town or living a moneyed life with little warmth or familial comfort. The possible adoption of a stray dog seems to be their only tangible connection to one another.
Little actually happens in terms of narrative in Hi-So. Like other contemplative Thai output in recent years, it is a slow-burner that places value in thematic exploration over plot or even character. Zoe is a largely blank canvas (this may be due to performance more than design) and May is easy to warm to but lacks depth. The absence of real character in Ananda, though, is possibly the film’s exact point. A smooth charmer with little substance; like the surrounding environs, he is ultimately hollow. All of this makes for interesting, rather than captivating viewing.
The languid and subtle style create a piece to be reflected on more than enjoyed with the unobtrusive cinematography fine, if unremarkable. The decision to cleave the abruptly film in two allows for some of the nicest moments but is also problematic. Scenes with the two girlfriends touchingly reflect one another but it also calls to mind countryman Apichatpong Weerasethakul. This only serves to highlight that Hi-So is never quite as evocative or intoxicating as it might have been.