The first part of this blog post – a review of Hangover 2 – isn’t what I what I sat down to write; it just gives me a way to segue into the later bits.
I find it funny that the owner of Segway Inc. died when he drove a Segway off a cliff.
Every Vegas movie has a shot of a guy sticking his head out like a puppy from a car, awestruck by the dozens of neon signs and a thousand bulbs flashing by. Govinda cavorts around in the Swiss Alps, suspiciously singing and dancing with a bunch of schoolkids.
As long as you give moviegoers an armchair vacation, it adds pizzaz to an otherwise lacklustre script. This is what I found myself thinking after watching The Hangover Part II, in Bangkok, the week it released in theatres. I count myself lucky that I got to see the filming locations. Hell-yeah I was excited. A quest to complete the trail and discover Bangkok at the same time!
Armed with these guides from Travelhappy and CNNGo, I started off at the Sky Bar and Sirocco restaurant on the 63rd/64th floor of Lebua Hotel. Didn’t go to the top – for one, the cargos I was wearing wouldn’t pass their ‘smart casual only’ dress code. Also, prices – aptly for a place named Sky Bar – are sky-high: a drink costs about 500 baht (US $17)! It is supposed to have one of the best views of Bangkok (Bangkok doesn’t, yet, have a space needle like structure they can use to gouge tourists), so if you’re nattily dressed and have cash to spare, this one place to check out even if you aren’t a Hangover 2 fan.
Many generic-Bangkok street scenes were filmed in Bangkok’s Chinatown, known as Yaorawat. Much of the lanes look the same as the next one; still, if you want to see the specific lanes where they filmed then these are Soi Phiphasya 1 and Soi Plaeng Nam. Chinatowns are a fascinating place in any city, Bangkok is no different. You can lose yourself in its sprawling Yaorawat district for a whole day and never get bored with watching life pass by.
The Chao Phraya river is very much the lifeline of Bangkok. It flows north-to-south through the city, a major traffic-way that can often get you to your destination faster than Bangkok’s notoriously congested roads. As you take a Chao Phraya Express ferry down the river, you’re sure to find ‘longboats’ – small, private boats for hire with a long shaft connecting the engine to the propeller (hence the name). The Wolfpack travelled in one of these, in the scene where Stu strums a guitar lamenting their night epicly gone wrong. The speedboat scene in the final act is on the same river, though I never saw one myself. Perhaps this is only a possibility if you know international gangstas. Also on the Chao Phraya river, close to the Memorial Bridge pier, is the riverside café where Alan starts playing on an arcade machine – that’s Nang Noun Restaurant. Given the prominent role the riverway plays in Bangkok residents’ daily routine, it is no surprise that so many scenes were filmed there.
A short walk from Sukhumvit MRT – a district full of high-rise fancy hotels and tourist-packed shopping centres – is Bangkok’s infamous Soi Cowboy, a lane full of go-go bars. (‘Soi’, in case you were wondering, means ‘lane’ in Thai.)
I came here to see the place where Stu finds out he has demon/semen inside him. ‘Siam Siam’ doesn’t actually exist; it was a modified entrance to Cactus Bar. The interior shots were filmed at the Tilac, across the lane.
When I visited Soi Cowboy early evening, the *ahem* trade hadn’t quite started, but I could already see expectant wolfpacks and Dirty Old White Men circling like vultures. The girls themselves took this time to gather and have a big family-style dinner together before their work started.
I didn’t visit Ancient City, a theme park that was christened ‘Ching Mei Monastery’ in the film. (Don’t confuse ‘Ching Mei’ with ‘Chiang Mai’, which is a city about 700km from Bangkok! Any tuk-tuk driver offering to drive you to Chiang Mai is conning you.)
I don’t remember whether I went to Soi Sukhumvit 7/1, where the riot scene outside ‘White Lion’ was filmed, as all streets in the general area of infamous Patpong look very similar (see picture above). Apparently, Bill Clinton visited the set here when filming was going on; this is an opportune moment to make a ‘what was Bill Clinton doing in Patpong’ joke. You can see pictures from during Hangover 2‘s filming at this forum.
And yet, somehow, seeing these places with my own eyes diminishes the exoticness, the unattainability that Bangkok was chosen as a setting for in the first place. For someone who hasn’t visited Bangkok, the narrative remains reasonably fresh because your eyes can feast on ‘something new’ (no, girls, I don’t mean Bradley Cooper). I attribute The Hangover 2‘s box office success to this. Roger Ebert seems to think the film is a deliberate attempt to hurt Bangkok’s tourist traffic by playing up the shady parts of the city but you’d be surprised how many in the audience will see it as an advertisement rather than a warning; a place to have their own bachelor party.
(This is the bit that you can skip until you encounter the next section break.)
Ebert, bless the poor old sod, seems to be stuck up about that and ‘offensive’ parts of the movie. What truly makes this movie suck is the derivative script. Cracked.com has an excellent analysis of how the trailer for The Hangover and The Hangover Part II are essentially the same, with cosmetic substitutions. I was being overly optimistic when I hoped the full-length feature would be any different. The sequel is two minutes longer than the original, and pretty much the same with a new set of jokes. A toast at a secluded location. Time-lapse of the city skyline. A flash montage. Monkey instead of baby. Quest, find-Teddy, what-do-we-do, blah blah. Roofies, no wait, muscle relaxant. (How the fuck does that explain temporary amnesia, again?) Even the way they ‘find’ a solution is the fucking same – Stu has an epiphany and wrestles a phone out of Phil’s hand, who is delivering bad news. They even brought Sasha Barrese back to gnash her teeth and spit out “Where. Are. You. Guys.”
Let me ask you this: I can understand a bride’s father allowing a sunburnt groom, but do you honestly believe an Asian bride’s father, who only a couple of days ago compared the prospective groom to rice porridge, not lose his cool when he finds his virtuoso son is missing a bloody finger?
(Fucking Fast Five put in greater efforts to make an original film. Granted, they took it to the extreme of actually cutting away from a race and showing homoerotic tension between Vin Diesel and The Rock instead but you have to applaud them for trying.)
The element of surprise that made the original a delight is completely lost. Sure, in The Hangover you could be assured they would find Doug – this is a Hollywood movie after all – at the end, and yet you had this aura of mystery that you would never really find what went down. Until…they brought out the still shots over the credits. When Stu exclaims oh-dear-lord in Part 1, your reaction is the very same! When they pull the same trick in Part 2, you are not surprised any more. Neither, it seems are the actors, who copy scenes like zombies. Lame, lame, lame, just fucking lame.
Ken Jeong and Zach Galifianakis are the only ones that redeemed this movie for me. Any exceptionally good scene that had me belly-laughing – like the scene where Alan starts crying :D – were cut short by the plot that left me with an always-present feeling of déjà vu.
You know what, I am going to take the high moral ground here. It’s because of non-discerning viewers – the kind that goes out and buys Chetan Bhagat books and ‘likes’ them – are the reason for this recent rut in Hollywood productions of sequels and generic superhero movies. Fuck you all. Sure, Chetan Bhagat, Hollywood threequels, and Call of Duty: Black Ops all contribute to the economy but that still doesn’t stop them from being a piece of shit, quality-wise. McDonald’s and gourmet restaurants both have their own place under the sun, but you are deluding yourself to think a Big Mac can ever match a gourmet meal in quality (if not quantity).
No, there is nothing snobbish about not finding a Chetan Bhagat book or a run-of-the-mill Hollywood movie ‘awesome’. You, non-discerning viewer, is the sort of person who lists ‘watching movies’ as a hobby just because you catch the latest blockbusters or have a built a movie collection through torrents. ‘Watching movies’ is a recreational pastime that practically everyone in the civilised world indulges in; it only becomes a ‘hobby’ when you learn to separate the wheat from the chaff by watching the truly spectacular stuff – Kurosawa, Kubrick, Truffaut, et al. At the other end of the spectrum, you will also need to watch spectacularly bad stuff churned out by Tom Six, Uwe Boll and the countless shitty Child’s Play or Friday The 13th sequels to understand why they went wrong. You will need to watch truly loopy stuff – like Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou or Grindhouse. True appreciation will not come by just sitting down and watching Rashomon one day. Over a period of time, you’ll learn the tricks of film storytellers: the use of background score for mood, Eisensteinian montages, in medias res…
When you watch that many movies, you stop getting surprised by standard tricks. I start anticipating the next plot move these days when I watch a movie. It takes ‘something different’ to delight me. And when The Hangover Part II comes along with absolutely nothing that cannot be guessed, I feel betrayed and unsatisfied. I never used to read reviews from professional critics a few years ago because I always found their opinions at odds with mine, and I didn’t want to spoil my experience with a review I wouldn’t eventually agree with. Now, however, when I say I found a movie ‘average’ or ‘bad’, I mean it on an expanded scale where the baselines of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are further apart. My ‘average’ could be good for you – like a less-read person who likes Chetan Bhagat – but if you start arguing about merits with that background and call me a snob, I’m going to punch you in the face. Because I’m a cynical asshole (more on this a couple of sections below).
A couple of readers have asked me why I have stopped writing movie reviews of late. Depends on whom you are writing your blog for. If you have 20 readers – all friends – who value your opinion then power to you, by all means go ahead. Just remember that apart from them, nobody really gives a fuck about what you felt about a movie. There is no point writing about – unless you are doing it for yourself, in which case power to you – and especially no point summarising the plot. If your friends usually just catch the blockbusters, that’s what they’ll do. If they are avid movie watchers, then they already know what is being talked about and don’t need to read it. (I’m assuming by ‘friends’ you talk to them in real-life.) Even with a reasonably popular blog like mine, I understand that most of you don’t really care two hoots about my movie reviews. Those who know me, already hear about it on Facebook / Twitter – and usually a one-liner from a friend plus discussion is enough to swing people either way.
I realised that by continuing to write long, analytical reviews I was being hypocritical. At best I just skim-read film reviews on friends’ blogs because honestly, people just want to get an idea of what the person felt rather than a thesis that may warp their own perceptions. I do not think this is just me; I am certain most of my regular readers do the same. When people want their perceptions warped, they read a professional critic.
Thus I have decided not to write film reviews unless I have something unique to say. No matter how much I liked X-Men: First Class, you won’t see a review from me. I wrote this review because I had on-ground experience to share, and elaborating on why I didn’t like Hangover 2 when most of my friends did; the latter is also the reason why I reviewed The Social Network and followed up on it. Whenever I do review films with seemingly nothing very unique to add – like for Super 8 (partly, because I saw this earlier than in most countries as Singapore is ahead in timezones; I will do this for any movies that I get to see ahead of its release date in India as most of my readers are Indians) or Source Code – I keep it short. I try to talk about how I felt, rather than a plot summary or other fluff. I trust you guys are smart enough to look up IMDb if you want to know the actors in the movie or the studio that made it. I will make exceptions for old films, as long as they are comparatively less-known. Same rules on succinctness and uniqueness apply.
I am applying this philosophy to everything I write these days. As long as you dish out content that is unique and properly edited, people will read it even if it’s 3000 words.
The mid-season finale of South Park’s Season 15 – You’re Getting Old – resonated deeply with me. If you don’t watch / used to watch South Park then it’s pointless convincing you to; regular viewers of the show – this is a must-watch, the most mature show South Park has produced. Which is saying something because the episode is full of poop jokes.
How apt the timing of that episode has been. I know I am turning into a cynical asshole and I have barely stepped into my twenties. I want to be able to write like this and this. Instead of the stereotypical “totally, like, finding myself in Thailand”, I find myself more disillusioned of life in general and everybody in it in particular. Suddenly the works of Alex Garland, Chuck Palahniuk and their ilk appeals so much to me. The transition hasn’t been drastic from Douglas Adams to this, for he made a career out of taking the piss out of everything. At least he was good-natured about it. Worse is that I am cynical about my cynicism, the ‘manufactured’ cynicism of these authors…I am sneering at my cynicism towards my cynicism and so on.
A downhill spiral. I really am seeing and hearing shit everywhere. The voices inside my head tell me that I am going insane.
“You know, you are going to turn out to be one of those guys who completely loses his shit and goes on a shooting rampage. And people are going to say ‘But we thought he was only kidding!'”
“I never have said I’m going to go on a shooting rampage, even jokingly!”
“Yet, when you do, you are going to refer to this day as the day the idea got cemented in your head.”
I fear I’m turning into the pretentious fuck who will pipe up in a Thai restaurant in Delhi / London saying, “Yes, but this doesn’t really compare to that corner-side restaurant in Silom. [looks away mistily]” Or the countless times I will probably say, “Ha, this is but pale imitation, tweaked to suit Western palates. Real Chinese food is totally different!” There will be – at least initially – wow-tell-us-more novelty as the dinner conversation gets steered towards tales from far-off lands, which will soon turn into a simmering why-won’t-he-shut-the-fuck-up-about-his-travels resentment. Why, indeed? Because there will always be at least one starry-eyed person sitting at the table, and a speaker willing to relive moments.
Or maybe I’ll become on of those more subtle pretentious fucks who doesn’t actively go around publicising where he has been, only to drop in a carefully timed hit-and-run comment in a discussion about a foreign country that only someone who has ‘been there’ can. Eventually, people learn to live with you either way, as “that grudgingly-sufferable know-it-all bastard”.
Of course, the real reason you people will feel resentful is because you wish you could switch places, be the person who has all those visas to show on his passport. The person who could tell those stories. No, I’m not rubbing it in; this is that emotion called ‘jealousy’ that Jesus warned you about.
Look at you, seething already at my arrogance. Yes, maybe now’s the time to stop reading to my blog. “That’ll teach him!” Look at some of you, mollified by this self-aware criticism. (That was the plan all along!) Look at me, already thinking up lines like “I was young and foolish back then” too speak embarrassedly if this article is brought up in the future.
I know that some of you are thinking I am…mocking (for the lack of a better word)…by listing out your possible reactions.
I know that some of you are thinking that I enjoyed anticipating that you would think that I am…mocking (for the lack of a better word)… by listing out your possible reactions.
I know that some of you are thinking…