In many ways, the debut feature from Bangkok-born, American-educated Aditya Assarat, Wonderful Town, has all the hallmarks of a workshopped Sundance indie: an eminently tasteful romance between two ingratiatingly sweet people burgeoning against a backdrop of recent tragedy, buoyed by delicate guitar score, bracketed by self-consciously lovely landscape shots. A detailing of the emotionally and physically ravaged coastal area of Takua Pa following the December 2004 tsunami that cost it more than 8,000 local lives, Wonderful Town means to use the event's aftereffects to evoke its characters' personal displacement. There's no doubt that Assarat has talent for situating people within gracefully framed environments, but in an overly studied manner that leaves no room for the sort of spontaneity in performance and composition that the film's subject matter warrants.
The intentions may be noble, but look at the work of a filmmaker like Jia Zhangke for the sort of complex representation of the interplay between man and constantly changing environment that Assarat means to capture. In Jia's Still Life, two people searching for missing loved ones and themselves, wander among a formerly populated district that's about to be submerged in water to make way for a major dam project, and he incorporates his actors into this already demolished real environment in a wholly unobtrusive way; his aesthetics are a byproduct of the chosen location. Assarat, on the other hand, approaches his environment as an aesthetic object unto itself: Takua Pa, whose coal-grey skies and green, green grasses are photographed with the utmost care, becomes the opportunistic background for a reserved pas de deux.
Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky's review of Wonderful Town.