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Wu Ke-Xi (left) and Kai Ko in The Road to Mandalay.

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Lee Si-kang (left) and Korean heart-throb Baek Sung-hyun in Walking Street.

Dark love stories set in Thailand

Nov 11, 2016 5:50 AM

LOVE stories, more often than not, tend to be cringe-worthy affairs when put in the hands of commercial directors. Indie filmmakers, however, tend to be more adventurous; and two upcoming works at the Singapore International Film Festival - which explore the darker and complicated sides of male-female relationships - prove just that.

The Road to Mandalay, directed by Midi Z, explores the unrequited love between two Burmese migrants who first meet while trying to cross illegally into Thailand.

Once they succeed, Lianqing (Midi Z's muse, Wu Ke-Xi) sets her mind on getting the correct identity papers so she can find work in a handbag factory in Bangkok. She is so focused on her task that she is oblivious to the quiet affection Guo (Taiwanese idol Kai Ko) has been showering on her.

Despite the lean plot, Wu and Kai find plenty to chew on and tackle their roles with a lot of raw emotions.

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The former wears her character's grit and angst all over her bare face and heats up the already-tight Best Actress race at the Golden Horse awards even further with a heart-wrenching performance.

The Road to Mandalay is also being nominated for Best Picture.

Ko, whose career took off after You Are The Apple of My Eye (2011) before abruptly screeching to a halt when he was involved in a drug scandal with Jaycee Chan two years ago, mounts a strong comeback with a slow-burning turn that has earned him a Best Actor nod.

Myanmar-born, Taiwan-raised Z, who himself is up for Best Director, keeps things real by taking the minimalist route - there is no music to convey the rising tension between the two lead characters - so less becomes more as he controls and manipulates the build-up to the film's explosive and unexpected finale.

Giving love an equally bad name is Korean provocateur Lee Sang-woo and his new film, Walking Street. The steamy drama is set in and named after the seedy area in Pattaya, famed for its go-go bars and women of the night who ply their trade there.

The plot revolves around a pair of brothers played by heart-throb Baek Sung-hyun (Stairway to Heaven, 2003) and Lee Si-kang who run away from Korea to Thailand after one of them commits a violent crime. There, they meet Jee-na (Lee Song-lee), a Korean prostitute, with whom both fall in love with, with tragic consequences.

Walking Street follows in the twisted tradition of Park Chan-wook's Old Boy (2003) and Kim Jee-woon's I Saw the Devil (2010) with its unflinching mix of sex and violence.

Baek's fans might be shocked to see their idol take on such a daring role but it's heartening to see a mainstream actor like him bravely lending his name to an indie filmmaker whose daring works are not often seen outside the festival circuit.

  • The Road to Mandalay (Rating: B+) screens at Marina Bay Sands on Dec 1 at 7.15pm; while Walking Street (Rating: B) makes its world premiere at Shaw Theatres Lido on Nov 25 at 7pm. The directors and casts of both films will be in attendance. For tickets and full line-up, check sgiff.com
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