Pete has just arrived in Bangkok as the country is celebrating the festival of Songkran — the traditional Thai New Year, where people splash and soak one another with water in the streets. It’s a joyful holiday, but Pete can’t participate. He’s in town to make a business deal, as part of his job selling high-end coffee machines.
He gets stuck in Bangkok’s infamous traffic and decides to make his way to the hotel on foot. But when he gets lost amongst the many back alleys and side streets of the city, he drops into a coffee shop for help, where he meets its proprietor Mai. As pressures mount on Pete, he heads out into the city for a night that will change the rest of his life.
Directed and produced by Bank Tangjaitrong and written by Ben Macleod, this thoughtful short romantic drama takes advantage of cinema’s inherent ability to capture the unique time and tenor of a place to show us a different corner of the world. With an appreciation of sensory detail and an ambling pace that soaks in the sights and sounds of a faraway city, it encourages its main character, and us, to slow down, take in the surrounding world and people and enjoy the ride of life.
With its combination of melancholic romanticism and a somewhat lost, alienated character wandering in a strange land, the short may remind some of Sofia Coppola’s award-winning film Lost in Translation. Visually, those films share a thoughtful, considered approach to composition, an almost musical sense of editing and a romantic softness in the lighting and color. Both films, too, set up their main character amidst a hotel setting, feeling unmoored by their present life but not sure where to go quite next.
But while Coppola’s film had no meaningful interaction with Japanese culture that transformed the characters, much of the narrative here is driven by Pete’s improvisatory friendship with Mai, which develops throughout a near-magical night full of wandering, conversation and connection.
Actors Danny Lee and Kanticha Chumma have an easygoing, affectionate back-and-forth as they embody two people both struggling quietly in life and draw each other out with palpable connection. As the storytelling develops into a night-time whirl of sounds and sensations, it captures the intoxicating magic of Bangkok at night, and how both find the fun and adventure in life once again through one another.
Rich and romantic in feeling and sensibility, “Songkran” captures the magic of connection, particularly during traveling, when we can be unusually open despite knowing we may never see someone again. But it is wise enough not to overplay its hand and isn’t afraid to reveal that a magical night doesn’t always lead to a happily-ever-after. In managing that disappointment, Pete learns a valuable lesson, one that reflects the ethos of Thailand, whose people believe in the spirit of “sanook.” Often translated as “fun,” it is a profound appreciation of life, no matter what your circumstances, and a willingness to enjoy the moment — because that moment is all we truly have. As Pete learns, there will always be disappointments and difficulties, but there is also beauty and adventure that await us, if only we jump at the opportunity.