Doi Boy is definitely not for everyone, especially for viewers who dislike slow-paced films. But it’s stunning, intriguing, and definitely something new.
After years of documentaries covering Thailand’s controversial issues, some of which have been temporarily banned by the Ministry of Culture, Nontawat Numbenchapol takes a step into feature film in Doi Boy. The plot covers plenty of the topics he’s previously depicted– immigration, prostitution, and corruption– but it unfolds naturally into a slow-paced, but moving drama where an undocumented sex worker tries to find home. Awat Ratanapintha as Sorn excellently leads this journey, but Arak Amornsupasiri as reluctant cop Ji, and Bhumibhat Thavornsiri as passionate activist Wuth also make their mark. While the film doesn’t delve into the intricate intersectionality, it feels like that’s part of the point. The notion of a nation doesn’t care about people’s dreams, even if that dream is for the nation to be better.
While this is his debut feature, Doi Boy is not director Nontawat Numbenchapol’s first foray into film. The Thai director started his career through making documentaries about a number of social issues affecting Southeast Asia, including border conflicts, ethnicity, and sex work. It’s easy to see how his documentary experience has inspired the film– the characters are shaped by the issues he’s been covering all his life, and there’s a naturalistic touch to the certain scenes, a certain true-to-life quality in the film’s mise en scène. The camera goes through part of the same experience as Sorn does, lingering in the dark as he slips in a trunk to get over the border, on the slick, oiled up skin he’s currently massaging. This approach helps portray its issues more realistically, helping it stand out from salacious depictions of similarly themed films.