Despite the number of gay bars, high social tolerance, and the availability of gender reassignment operations that should make Thailand the undisputed gay capital of Southeast Asia, the country still lacks an effective gay rights movement and a fair representation of homosexuals in the mainstream film industry. This context makes The Last Song an exceptionally bold film, not because of its transgender protagonist and homosexual content—many earlier Thai films have achieved that—but because of its honest and poignant portrayal of what it means to be queer in modern Thai society. Even more astonishingly, The Last Song was made in 1985.
Now two decades later, veteran director Pisan Akkarasaranee has remade and updated his 1985 version to fit the 21st century Thailand. I have not seen the original version, so I cannot comment on how, or if, the new one has improved. But I personally do not feel the need to do so because the 2006 version has already got me under its spell.
The Last Song benefits from an uncompromising plot. It tells a story of Somying Daorai (played by real-life transgender Araya Ariyawatthana), the main star of the world-renowned Tiffany’s lip-synching transvestite cabaret show in the beachfront city of Pattaya, who decidedly remains single and independent because she believes that no one will truly love a transgender like her. Then, she meets Boonterm (played by newcomer Watcharakorn Waisin), whom she rescues from a dead-end mechanic job to a singing sensation at Tiffany. They become best friends and get closer as time progresses, which erodes their platonic relationship and her firm distrust in love. On top of this, Somying’s sister Orathai (Sumolrat Watthanaselarat) enters the scene and further complicates the matter. With a true entertainer’s spirit, Somying uses her final performance—her last song—to come to terms with her feelings.
The story is overall strong and cohesive, with some of the more matured lines in recent memory. For example, in a small scene which Boonterm takes Somying to his hometown, he whispers something to his mother’s ears and she looks at Somying in surprise and exclaims “really?” The mother then runs to the father and repeats Boonterm’s comment, which is actually about Somying’s salary not her sexuality.
If the plot has a weakness, it lies in character development. More time should be devoted to the intimate relationship between Somying and Boonterm and how Boonterm manages to break down the wall to Somying’s heart. In addition, supporting characters need to be less stereotypical; I know that whiny, foul-mouthed, pedophiliac, and promiscuous homosexuals exist in Pattaya, but I find it hard to believe that 99% of the gay population fit those descriptions.
Regardless, the plot brilliantly builds up its momentum to its emotionally powerful final scene, which features Araya, a newcomer, in one of the best performances in at least a decade of Thai cinema. I sincerely hope to see her nomination in the local film awards—for best actress. Watcharakorn, Sumolrat, and the rest of the cast turn in satisfactory performances but, disappointingly, legendary actor Nirut Sirichanya never seems comfortable with his first-time role as a transvestite.
In any case, the film’s strengths far outweighed its weaknesses and if you have enough money for a few films this year, this one deserves it. It is a shame that The Last Song is on a limited release, as most of Thailand’s local theatres have decided to show a more testosterone-filled action flick like The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift instead. When Superman returns next week, he will surely obliterate The Last Song out of existence. What a crime.