To fully appreciate Hi-So, I think you need all the context; as there are certainly a lot of things surrounding the making of this film, the second feature by Thai director, Aditya Assarat. On first viewing for me, I didn’t fully understand what I was watching, then I did some research and realised what certain parts of the film were trying to say and do, on re-watching I realised that this is a much more subtle and marked piece of filmmaking, rather than the boring and removed piece I originally thought I had watched.
That being said, Hi-So will not be for everyone – audiences today certainly don’t want to feel obliged to do research when it comes to cinema and sometimes just want to sit down and enjoy a piece of work for what it is. This is not one of those cases, and instead I do believe that one should read around the film before watching. Even read the synopsis for the film, and you won’t ruin anything; Assarat’s mastery comes less in the form of storytelling and more in the anticipation of the images to come. He has captured several moments in the life of his protagonist, Ananda (Ananda Everinghan), which may not provide much information about how he got to where he is and certainly do not cause any false hope of character development but instead it is a keen exploration of a moment in time and how the world around him is playing upon his mind.
There is also an element of film history to Hi-So, where those much more in the know than myself would be able to compare Assarat’s style of filmmaking to the slow moving, exploratory allegories of films gone by. Where the films were filled much more with simile rather than a full narrative drive.
Ananda has returned home, and without giving too much thought becomes the star of a film about a man with amnesia after the Indian Ocean tsunami of a few years earlier. He walks around surroundings, which he was once fully aware off. Places he lived, he loved and he was once part off but now he has forgotten them and finds they are no longer part of his world – but instead stand empty, damaged and terrifyingly far away from the reality he once knew. Whilst Ananda has started making the film, his girlfriend, Zoe has come from America to visit him. She comes to the film set, and meets all those involved in making the film. But she finds herself spending more and more time alone and even though she gets some quality time with her boyfriend, she knows this isn’t the reality she remembered either. Much like Ananda’s character, she feels she is in a different world so far removed from the culture she was aware off and spent time with him originally in. She spends time in a hotel alone, because it is off season and grows close to the staff in the hotel, who tell her stories of travels, which failed without visas and takes part in their parties; her one moment of relaxation away from the stress of her failing relationship.
The next part of the film looks a little while later; the tsunami film has been completed and Ananda seems to be in a comfortable relationship with one of the producers, May. They are pretty much living together comfortably in an apartment owned by Ananda’s mother who seems quite wealthy, and owns a block, which is filled with damage. It is being ripped down to be built back up again. We follow Ananda give out bonuses to the staff and come to learn that he has come from the higher society – a reference to the name of the film. He also takes May to the top of the hotel and points out a skyscraper, and tells her this was once the highest building around but so much has changed since then, with businesses and consumerism taking over the place where he grew up.
As such Hi-So is less of a narratively driven film, and more a film of moments; primarily of those affecting Ananda. There are few moments for narrative flow, and little character development but there are moments of commentary about the changing world around those in the film. The mirroring and juxtapostition of the hotel destroyed as portrayed in the film that Ananda is in, as well as his mother’s block, which is falling to man made destruction (assuming for a refurbishment) as well as scenes where he translates Thai to English for Zoe and English to Thai for May. These scenes are interesting revelations into the differences of the characters of May and Zoe, and show an interesting difference between the American wanting the translation because she was bored and the Thai girl wanting the translation to learn.
Another aspect to the film was the beauty of the directing; these subtle differences and similarities are so that one may not even notice them – it would be a shame to do so but it could happen. The moments are slow, but the connotations are wide and interesting. The scenes are shot in lush surroundings, and the array of characters compliment the world around. Assarat’s camera is exploratory, and takes the time to go the distance of looking around – it does this to point the audience towards understanding the mirroring techniques.
As a film, it is beautiful but as a narrative (if there really is one), it’s pretty bland. Hi-So won’t be for everyone, I personally don’t think it was for me but I understand (or am starting to) the ways in which the film is opening up a commentary on the Western world and it’s Asian counterpart. The ways in which language can work, and how cultural differences can be so important.
Hi-So is playing on Friday March 1st at Curzon Renoir followed by a Q&A and on Saturday March 2nd at Hackney Picturehouse, also with a Q&A.