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Handle Me with Care
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by Jay Seaver

"Give this movie a hand."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: When you're born with a third arm, losing your tailor is far more traumatic than losing your girlfriend.

At least, that's the impression one gets from Kwan Traithep (Kiatkamol Latha) at the start of Handle Me With Care. His high-school girlfriend Lin is getting married, and his current girl Ann has just broken up with him, but it's the sudden death of "Uncle" Tawee, the tailor who makes his special three-sleeved shirts, that apparently pushes him to take a Bangkok clinic up on their offer to amputate his extra left arm. Getting there from rural Lampang will be something of an adventure - his car is busted, so he winds up hitching a ride with his friend Lorlee, who is delivering a bus there. On the way, they meet up with Na (Supaksorn Chaimongkol), also on her way to Bangkok to find the husband who she hasn't seen for a year.

Take away the whole third arm thing, and what's left is still quite the entertaining road movie. Writer/director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee plagues Kwan, Na, and Lorlee with a series of disasters that are more challenging than dangerous, and shuffles Lorlee off the stage once he starts just being an interruption to the scenes with Kwan and Na (and it becomes clear that the bus would make things too easy). They meet up with some interesting people, but the emphasis never shifts too much from them getting to know each other.

They're a nice pair to meet for the audience as well. Both of them tend to draw looks for their appearance (many comments are made about the size of Na's breasts, although she seems more generally curvy than notably busty), leaving them more alienated as they feel nobody pays attention to them as whole people. Latha plays Kwan as having a chip on his shoulder for much of the movie, although he's charmingly awkward at other times. Chaimongkol tends to present Na as more extroverted and likely to joke around, but shifts gears to lonely and sad well enough to make it abundantly clear that being seen as sexy isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be. The simple and heartfelt way she pays off a sort of annoying series of comments about having a great ringtone is kind of wonderful.

Jaturanrasamee's script gives them likable, oddly realistic characters to play, and he doesn't take the easy route once it becomes clear that this moive is about how being special is both a blessing and a curse. He also puts together a nifty-looking movie from it (I can't remember the last movie I saw from Thailand that didn't look striking in one way or another). I like his occasional cutaways to black screens to show Kwan's thoughts as intertitles, his bright colors, and the way he and his cinematographer make the trip from Lampang to Bangkok both beautiful and daunting. It's also somewhat jaw-dropping that the festival program claims no digital effects were used to create the third-arm effects; some of them must have been insanely difficult to pull off to keep the second performer hidden.

"Handle Me With Care" is more nifty than ground-breaking, I suppose, but it's handled so well that it deserves applause: Not many people would have this idea in the first place, and once they had it, few would make it this sweet as opposed to silly.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17606&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/20/08 01:05:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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