One of this year’s two Thai imports on the New York Asian Film Festival slate has a very special something with potential to be a runaway audience favorite. The modern-feeling HEART ATTACK is clever, with razor sharp witty dialogue (if any nuance was lost in translation then the original Thai script must be a sheer brilliant act of word play), yet emotionally moving to such a degree that hearts will ache for its young crestfallen characters.
At its center is Yoon, a hopelessly withdrawn workaholic firmly set in a realm of freelance graphic designers. He represents a figure of legendary status among his peers. He narrates his journey, at first extolling the virtues of going days without sleep, and along the way decrying unnecessary obstacles to his career path such as a diet varied beyond his favorite 7-11 shrimp dumplings or shopping for clothes (his wardrobe is a consistent rotation of 90s grunge band t-shirts. If played straight such a lifestyle could cause awe and consternation, but Yoon emits a playful, wide-eyed charm as he stubbornly holds fast to his folly.
With nothing impeding Yoon’s single-minded commitment to completing jobs, his body finally revolts by producing pock marks at an increasingly alarming rate. Doctor visits would appear to be futile in bringing about any positive change save for a fortuitous public clinic pairing with a little-experienced doctor who Yoon finds attractive.
The unexpected promise of human interaction, perhaps even romance, with a compatible peer gives Yoon reason to change but this self-preserving drive is still at odds with his hardwired habits. Which force will prevail becomes a major question of the narrative. Humanity surfaces in all kinds of disarming and amusing ways as the clever protagonist struggles to break away from what he has always done, even as he realizes it is what is best.
The telling of Yoon’s tale is one of the things that makes this film stand out. It moves quickly, hits an even balance of the main character’s lighthearted reproachful behavior and more serious heartbreaking failures to connect. Different energetic background music clues you to the mode of each scene, but also playfully stops midway to show an awareness that a subtle manipulation is taking place. One cannot help but notice the striking similarity between the free jazz percussion that scores Yoon’s trip into isolated work obsession and a certain anti-superhero film that won all kinds of awards in 2015, but otherwise the score feels refreshingly progressive.
That HEART ATTACK isn’t just a film that compels us to see if the guy and girl get together, but shows the potential of positive change to occur in even the most hardened cases, making it a universal winner. Though not all that concerned with the superficiality of an increasingly touch-up image conscious society, it is an incisive look at obsession with productivity. It is a sly turning the tables on the usual notion of slackers being flawed in the face of earnest hard workers.
Looking at the history of NYAFF Audience Award Winners, filled with countries of origins that have considerably widely established film scenes – Japan, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan – wouldn’t it be a remarkable for this year’s champion to be from Thailand? It would seem the perfect finishing touch for this 15th anniversary edition of the festival, never resting its laurels on what has worked before, and giving a significant focus to films South East Asia.
HEART ATTACK (FREE LANCE) is being screened at the Walter Reade Theater Sunday, July 3, at 6:30 PM. Visit the Subway Cinema website for details and tickets.