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Monday, February 4, 2013

Review: My Girl (Fan Chan, 2003 Thailand)

Two Best Friends in 1980s Thailand

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: 2003
Rating: NR
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 110 minutes
Directors and Writers: Vitcha Gojiew, 
Songyos Sugmakanan, Nithiwat Tharathorn, 
Witthaya Thongyooyong, Adisorn Trisirikasem, 
Komgrit Triwimol 
Cast: Charlie Trairat, Focus Jirakul, 
Charwin Jitsomboon, Wongsakorn Rassamitat, 
Arnudsara Jantarangsri, Nipawan Taveepornsawan, 
Aphichan Chaleumchainuwong, Preecha Chanapai, 
Anyarit Pitakkul, Yok Teeranitayatarn, 
Chaleumpol Tikumpornteerawong, 
Thana Vichayasuranan

In the early moments of "My Girl," Jeab (played briefly as an adult by Charwin Jitsomboon and as a child for the majority of the movie by Charlie Trairat) receives a phone call from his mother, who tells him that his childhood friend Noi-Nai (Focus Jirakul) is getting married. This causes him to think back to the times they shared together as kids in the small village of Petchaburi, Thailand during the 1980s.

For those of you wondering, this version of "My Girl" (known as "Fan Chan" in its native country) has no direct relation to the more famous 1991 American movie with Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chlumsky. There are some obvious similarities, though. They're both about two best friends – a boy and a girl – and their painful separation. That isn't a spoiler because the movie makes it clear from the outset that something happened when Jeab and Noo-Nai were young and they haven't seen each other in a very long time.

Flashing back to the '80s, Jeab and Noi-Nai have been best friends since birth. They generally do what she wants because she's bigger. That usually means playing house or baking imaginary cupcakes. But Jeab is torn and longs to be "one of the boys." However, a "gang" led by chubby three-time 4th grader Jack (Chaleumpol Tikumpornteerawong) wants nothing to do with him because he's a "sissy" who plays with girls.

Jack isn't the only interesting character Jeab and Noo-Nai interact with. Both of their mothers (Arnudsara Jantarangsri and Nipawan Taveepornsawan) are very close, but their fathers (Wongsakorn Rassamitat and Preecha Chanapai) are rival barbers two doors away from each other. So petty is their feud that they'll refuse a customer who's had his hair cut by the other. Small touches like that really breathe life into the world this movie inhabits.

Jeab's father indulges him, giving him a ride to the school bus every morning because he oversleeps. His mother goes too far in the other direction, physically punishing the child - whacking him with a stick - to keep him in line. Despite their different philosophies on child-rearing, Jeab is a good boy – albeit a bit confused about his place in the social order of the village.

This film isn't a tense thriller in the least, but the final childhood sequence will have you on the edge of your seat.

"My Girl" appears to depict the '80s accurately. I recognized a "Nintendo Game & Watch" toy from my own childhood.

The passing of time is also handled very well. When Jeab returns to his village as an adult and goes to the market, we see that the modest corner store from his childhood is now gone. It has been replaced by a 7-11. Even in the '80s scenes, there are subtle references to Americanization. But those moments aren't intended to be political statements; they simply illustrate the inevitable changes and evolutions that take place over the years.

In another nice touch, the cutting of hair is powerfully used as a symbol to denote changing moods, attitudes, and fortunes.

Films like "My Girl" are fascinating because they provide a window into another world. There are so many differences – and even more similarities. I cannot possibly have a personal frame of reference for what life was like in Thailand during the 1980s, but early friendship is a universal theme that transcends all countries and languages – and it's portrayed beautifully here. The closing shot of the movie perfectly captures the timelessness and wonder that can only exist in the friendships we make when we're very young. 

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