Pen-Ek Ratanaruang seems to like to open his films with some sort of a palate cleanser, a tool that removes the audience from whatever else they were doing and transports them to the setting and the mindset of his films. In Invisible Waves, he used the deceptively calm ocean; in Ploy, the wee-hour morning when darkness fights with daylight.
In Nymph, the palate cleanser is the visually pleasing extended opening shot inside a deep jungle where we see majestic trees, deformed flora, a woman being chased and raped by two men, and later by the tranquil riverside two dead male bodies (who may or may not be the rapists). All of this happens within a single, long continuous shot, seemingly taken from a perspective of a passive bystander or a supernatural being residing in the jungle—a nymph, perhaps.
And this opening shot clearly sets the tone for the rest of the film—that the jungle remains sinister and mysterious and that whoever wishes to understand it is bound to be disappointed. But Nymph isn’t about the jungle, per se. It appears that the jungle serves only as a metaphor for the human heart and its desire that seems perpetually unexplainable, unquenchable like those of the film’s protagonists.
Nymph tells a story of a nature photographer husband Nop (Nopachai Jayanama) who goes missing during a jungle trip with his estranged wife May (Wanida Termthanaporn), who has been secretly having an affair with her boss Korn (Chamanun Wanwinwasara). Although May was coaxed to come along in an attempt to fix a rocky marriage, her husband’s sudden disappearance is driving her mad. She believes the jungle nymph takes her husband away, and she resolves to get him back at whatever costs (one scene features her furiously hitting a tree in which she believes the nymph resides).
But May’s action isn’t as outlandish as the film portrays. After all, we all want what we can’t get. May wants Nop after he has left her for good (dead, taken by the nymph, or just lost—the film is intentionally ambiguous). Nop caresses a tree trunk as if it were a woman after May has refused to sleep with him. Korn, himself a married man, divorces his wife as a proof of love to May after she has expressed her intention to find Nop.
Nymph perfectly captures this ambiguity of the human desire which, like the deepest part of the jungle, can be just as dark, mysterious, and unpredictable. Some may be drawn to this mystique, but no pellucid explanations can ever be found.