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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 36.36%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad63.64%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 5 user ratings

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Good Woman of Bangkok, The
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by John Smith

2 stars

A lot of documentaries teach you more about their makers than they do about their subjects. This film is one of them.

Aoi, the good woman of the title, is introduced to us only after scrolling titles tell us that the filmmaker’s catalyst to making the film was the break up of his marriage, and the questions around sex and love that the breakup had produced.

Many middle aged men travel to Thailand to find sex and companionship with local prostitutes when they find themselves single, just like O’Rourke. Some bring them back to Australia, New Zealand or Europe as wives. The scrolling titles are admirably honest, but they resonate through the entire film, and encourage a question.

Was it intentional that Dennis O’Rourke approach filming Aoi’s life in the same way that she is utilised by foreign visitors to Patpong? Point and shoot, and throw her some money (or, in this case, a rice farm). If so, this is intelligent filmmaking, layering reality, perception and style neatly together. Or, is this film a glimpse inside the confused middle-aged male mind, unconsciously given to us by the director?

I don’t find anything particularly outstanding about the film making techniques, to say the least. The back-seat-of-the-tuk-tuk rear view mirror shot had me laughing out loud. And he stuffs up with his storytelling too.

The double decker narrative provided by Aoi’s agrarian aunty is thought provoking and informative, but I got it after the first couple of scenes – this is where Aoi may have ended up, this is where she came from, this is another version of womanhood in her culture, etc, etc. It gets boring after a while, and repetitive, and patronizing to the viewer. As a "cameo", she would have been extremely effective. But O’Rourke lays her on with a trowel – she occupies almost as much screen time as Aoi – and she detracts from the film.

The film pulls its punches. The most interesting thing about Aoi’s life is her work as a prostitute in Bangkok, but apart from some anecdotes from her and her friends and colleagues, we don’t get to see much of it. We see the slavering tourists coming for the easy sex their foul physicalities would never score for them at home, but we don’t really get any insight into the point of view of Aoi on this most important matter. The film presents her as a languid slut, who finds sex her most profitable resource, and who is apparently addicted to quick romance and attention. Fair enough, but why? I want to see this deeper side of her nature, and see O’Rourke explore a more intellectual side of his subject. Instead, we get a capable home movie, locked inside its maker’s mindset.

Ethically, the film is also split down the middle. O’Rourke’s (unknowing?) honesty in the presentation of himself, stranded in middle age and looking around for something to put his own life into perspective, is admirable. If it has in fact, snuck through, it is all the more ethical – for the ethics involved, the "real" story, has asserted itself over the contrivances of the film. As for Aoi, she was paid for her time, and O’Rourke claims to have given her a rice farm to live on, though she is seen back in Bangkok at the film’s end.

But, again admirably, O’Rourke includes her canny comment that he will go back to the West and profit from his film, whereas she will be pretty much left where she is (this is exactly what turned out to happen). Thousands of women live as Aoi does. Millions more would consider her situation luxurious in comparison to their own. Why pussy-foot
arund with political correctness? At least GOOD WOMAN … is candid, and anchored in good old fashioned call-a-spade-a-spade morality.

As for reality, Aoi’s aunty’s endless reflections build Aoi up like the heroine of a great saga – she does not appear on screen until she has been talked up by others into a figure of much mystery and emotion, she is last seen disappearing down a side street with a client in the back of a tuk-tuk, like the final scene of a tragic romance. Isn’t this the exact reality, not of Aoi’s inner life, but her working life?

That middle aged men come to take advantage of her, not only physically, but to satisfy their romantic yearnings and sense of power in the heart of a woman? In this way, whether it was intended or not, the film presents a very sharp reality.

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originally posted: 04/22/02 23:04:34
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User Comments

12/28/05 Elena She screws O'Rourke so well he doesn't even realise it 2 stars
5/13/04 victoria burke she is not as innocent as she seems, is she acting throughout to create a fanasy figure. 4 stars
11/07/03 LJ Not as good as Cunnamulla but still very provocaitive and confrontational 4 stars
9/23/03 James Marsters Decent film. O'Rourke's done better though. 4 stars
10/30/02 S.R challenging observational cinema 4 stars
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Directed by
  Dennis o'rourke

Written by
  Dennis o'rourke

  Yagwalak Chonchanakun

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