Once Upon a Star (2023)

Once Upon a Star (2023)

Nonzee Nimibutr’s bittersweet love letter to the Thai film industry

The Very Best

8.5

Movie

Thailand
Thai
Drama
2023
NONZEE NIMIBUTR
Jirayu La-ongmani, Kongkiat Khomsiri, Nat Sakdatorn
138 min

TLDR

Films about films have been done before, but Once Upon a Star still manages to be unique in its own right. Also, Nonzee Nimibutr is quite possibly Mitr Chaibancha’s biggest fan.

What it's about

In Thailand, 1970, a pharma-sponsored cinema projection troupe traveled from village to village to showcase live dubbed 16-mm films. However, as their industry is going through changes, they struggle to keep up with the times in order to keep doing what they love.

The take

When reminiscing about the film industry, most period films focus on the big names – the stars, the directors, and the producers that back them – as they’re more likely to have plenty of source material. Once Upon a Star is interested in the little people, the small town distributors that bring the movie magic to the locals. Centered on a cinema projection troupe, the film celebrates the old way of distribution, who, unlike today’s streaming, travel from place to place to set up outdoor cinemas with live dubbing. And through each projection of classic Thai masterpieces, the connection they have with each other, between both the troupe and the audience, recalls the intimate nostalgia of watching a movie together. It’s a unique take from director Nonzee Nimibutr, one that’s a stunning love letter to the film industry he hails from.

What stands out

In films, it’s common to incorporate a love story in order to create an emotional connection for the audience to a certain idea or ideology. It can go through two ways. One is where romance pushes the film’s lovers to pursue what’s right, despite the wrong the film hopes would change. Another is where romance pushes the film’s lovers to do wrong, and thus receiving karmic consequences for doing so. Once Upon a Star’s love story isn’t like these paths. In fact, it risks the existence of their troupe. Instead, it’s their friendship that creates this emotional connection with the viewers. It’s the connection between the troupe members, their dynamic, and their love for film that pushes them to make one more show. The way they mourn the iconic Mitr Chaibancha, as well as the last outdoor showing in the film, reflects the bittersweet way today’s film industry is currently changing. Even as things change, the film celebrates the love that was there before, and looks forward to what’s on the horizon.

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