Monday, November 27, 2017

Butterfly Man - A film.

Aged 23 I had to see the world.
I had a  friend traveling through South East Asia and she'd send me postcards and letters from Laotian paddy fields and tropical beaches – handwriting slanted slightly to the left, tales of opium dens, and body massages, it seemed magical, mysterious, partially undiscovered, I had to know more..
Secretly I  made plans to travel East.  
I read The Beach as did most of the other rat racers that summer and decided to hit the road. Consumed guidebooks at the rate Trump consumes cheeseburgers. India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, a plan was hatched. By September 2001, just after the twin towers were struck, I was packed, all set, and ready to leave the West behind forever.

Sixteen years and a couple of months flash by and I’m sitting in the nine seat cinema at the Friese Green film club awaiting Kaprice Kea’s Butterfly Man - a film about a young man encountering Thailand for the first time. Also celebrating are a fair sized audience some of whom were involved in the original production. So we had all pretty much been here for the long haul, looking back on how things were a decade and half before, perhaps a little too rose-tintedly.

Adam arrives in Bangkok with his girlfriend and they abruptly split-up over a minor disagreement, but the relationship’s been on the slide for a while and when Adam finds his significant other in the guesthouse room next door with a dreadlocked sandal seller we know the honeymoon is truly over. Thailand has a habit of testing Western boy-girl-relationships and in this case the couple split in less than 24 hours.  

The lovers split their separate ways and Adam heads to Ko Samui, determined to see out his holiday. Here he meets a character many of us know (and if we don’t know one we might just be him) - the middle-aged boozy expat not above dalliance with indigenous females – Joey - played brilliantly in this case by Francis Magee. Joey convinces Adam to visit a massage joint where we're introduced to Em the beautiful masseuse who Adam falls for and thus begins the vortex, the downward spiral, the lies, the mistruths, the deceptions that often follow an East West relationship.
Em retains her typical Thai conservative streak, hoping perhaps Adam will hold out for marriage and the house in the village. Inpatient and frustrated Adam hooks up with Noi one of the many bargirls on the beach and has to confess to Em that he has suddenly metamorphosed into a straight up, genuine Butterfly Man – a lover who goes from lady to lady, taking a piece of pollen from each as he so does. But Lady Fate doesn’t smile on those men who spread it about on the islands, things continue to spiral down for Adam his triangular love affair leading to him being drugged, and robbed and finally having to beg on the beach in a charming sequence of som nom na – serves’ you right.

Our old friend Joey returns and offers Adam a chance to make some quick cash on the neighboring Ko Phangnan. After some indecision he makes it over to meet a character named No Name, a statuesque blond, played by Abigail Good who pedals a shady sideline. 

Adam uncovers a human trafficking ring and rescues Em by stowing her away on a boat where she lies in his arms, having married him in a brief ceremony conducted by the charmingly Thai boat captain. Events unfold in a tragically entertaining fashion and this is all weaved together seamlessly as the final twist and turns lead Adam to Em’s Isaan village where he is making a new life for himself in the real Thailand.

Overall a rewarding picture. The score by Stephen Bentley-Klein is worth mentioning along with the title track by Skye Edwards (formerly of the band Morcheeba). Producer Tom Waller did a sterling job putting it all together and the cinematography was at times sublime. The acting from the foreign cast was impressive throughout and a few roles really shone. A film entitled Butterfly Man was bound to have the odd Thai / foreigner cliché, and was at times charmingly naïve, but that doesn’t take anything away from the movie. This is in many ways a better, more honest movie than Danny Boyle’s adaptation of The Beach and for those who first came to the Kingdom before the omnipresent mobile telephone, cyber stickers, and emjois Butterfly Man is a nostalgic treat full of personal memories and hidden rewards and it is well worth hunting down a copy or a download. 

You can buy the DVD HERE