It has been nearly four years since the devastating tsunami in Asia that took more than 200,000 lives. In Southern Thailand, one of the areas hardest hit by the tragedy, most towns and resorts have since been rebuilt and restored to their original idyllic state. On the surface, there are few traces left of the destruction that took place, but the tranquil beauty cannot hide the underlying sadness that is still palpable today. This is the environment that serves as the inspiration behind Wonderful Town, the highly acclaimed solo first feature by director Aditya Assarat.
Though the film’s sociopolitical subtext is evident from the setting alone, what is remarkable is how the director has shaped a tender romance amidst the hardship. The story is mostly a two-hander between Ton, a Bangkok architect, and Na, an inn keeper, who allows Ton to stay at her deserted inn. At first, Na appears uninterested in the outsider, but through sensitive and measured direction the filmmaker is able to show how she gradually gives in to love. Little touches, such as Na listening to Ton singing in the shower as well as the caressing of his clothes, give the film a sweetly innocent undertone. Still, the disquieting atmosphere following the tragedy lingers, from a building haunted by the spirits of those who perished in the waves, to the youths who roam in circles, killing time due to lack of employment. As word of Ton and Na’s secret love affair leaks, the locals begin their gossiping. This sets the tone for the dark final act, in which an altogether different type of wave threatens to overtake this wounded town. This signifies how the trauma of four years ago still continues to perpetuate itself to this day.
Subdued yet assured, this remarkable feature film balances deftly between genres without ever falling into stereotypes. It marks an auspicious debut for one of Asia’s hottest new directors.
“It’s no small feat to pull off as sweet and sensitive a romance as that between Na and Ton, and something rarer yet to suffuse such affections into a poem of wounded landscape.”
–Nathan Lee, The New York Times