Judge Joel Pearce thinks the Pang brothers should stick to making movies about eyes and ab-normal beauties.
I wish we'd gotten the second take.
Is One Take Only a new and unique story? Not really. Is it intelligent? Definitely not. But despite its rough edges, this low budget offering from the Pang brothers (The Eye) remains a blast to watch.
Facts of the Case
Bang (Pawarith Monkolpisit, Bangkok Dangerous) lives on the mean streets of Bangkok, but he isn't exactly what you'd call street smart. He is a small-time drug dealer with illusions of grandeur: He imagines himself as a rich thug getting things done. In reality, he's an ineffectual loser, lucky that he hasn't gotten himself killed. Som (Wanatchada Siwapornchai) is a young prostitute who barely looks 18 but already seems bored by the work that she does. The two of them live near each other, and run into each other a few times before they decide to start dating. One thing leads to another, and Bang allows himself to be pulled into much larger drug deals so that Som can quit prostitution and they can both live a better life.
We've all seen enough of these films to know that One Take Only can't end well. Bangkok for Sale, the literal translation of the title, is much more evocative of the futility and hopelessness that they face. They are only two small players in a much bigger world. Everything in the city is for sale, and they have almost nothing to sell. We meet a girl selling objects by the roadside that is even worse off than our main characters, but she is the only one. Unfortunately, the social commentary that the Pang brothers explore here is buried quite deep.
The best part of One Take Only is Oxide Pang's fast-paced, pulse pounding cinematography. A kinetic mix of the styles of Run Lola Run and Trainspotting, the scenes that burst into action are really something. Other sequences are unusually slow, giving us a chance to rest. The Pang brothers have a keen eye for visual style, and have put it to great use throughout.
Unfortunately, many of the other elements don't fare so well. Much of the film is improvisational, and the lack of clear scripting and direction is painfully clear much of the time. Many of the minor characters stare slack-jawed at the camera, no clue what to do next. The conversations between Som and Bank are natural, sometimes too natural for comfort. There's a reason that most films are scripted and artificial, and One Take Only serves as a reminder of that. For all the flashy cinematography, many of the film's sequences move horribly slow, and there isn't enough plot to fill the entire 90 minutes. Half the film is over by the time Som and Bank actually get together, and their budding relationship goes by far too quickly.
There are two reasons to sit through the lumbering plot: the lead performances—both are sensational. Monkolpisit is uniquely likable as Bank, as he imagines himself a better life. He is pathetic, and though he wants to be tough, we immediately recognize his softness. He has an awkward charisma that attracts Som, and it makes his scenes a lot easier to watch. Wanatchada Siwapornchai has one of the most expressive faces I've seen, making Som's reactions to the world around her a constant delight. These two performances are almost enough to make One Take Only worth watching, but not quite.
The video image on Tartan's DVD is a bit lackluster, but that's mostly owing to the low quality of the source print. Colors burst wildly from the screen, but there's a general lack of detail, especially during the dream and fantasy sequences. The sound transfer is better, featuring a raucous DTS and Dolby 5.1 mix just as bold as the filming style. There isn't much in the way of special features on the disc, except for a production featurette for Oxide Pang's Ab-Normal Beauty. I have no idea why they put a documentary from a different film on the disc, but I suppose it's better than nothing. Besides that, there are just a few trailers for other Tartan films.
In the end, I can't really recommend One Take Only. It has a dazzling visual style and a pair of strong lead performances, but it's too slow and empty compared to films in the genre that we've seen in the past. For every scene we spend glued to the screen, there are two we spend waiting for something to happen. The Pang brothers simply aren't working to their strengths here. Next time they want to make a drug-laden social commentary, the Pang brothers should start with a better plot and take the time to write a script.
Alas, One Take Only is guilty as charged. I knew it couldn't end well, and I was right in more ways than one.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
• Making of Ab-Normal Beauty
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