Last Life In The Universe

There's an unusual talent at play in Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang's third feature: Ratanaruang's simple willingness to tie different strands of melancholy melodramas and violent yakuza thrillers together with flashes of surreal mystery immediately sets him apart from the herd. Kenji (Tadanobu Asano) is a depressed Japanese librarian who, when he's not...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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There's an unusual talent at play in Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang's third feature: Ratanaruang's simple willingness to tie different strands of melancholy melodramas and violent yakuza thrillers together with flashes of surreal mystery immediately sets him apart from the herd. Kenji (Tadanobu Asano) is a depressed Japanese librarian who, when he's not shelving books at Bangkok's Japan Cultural Center library, spends his time in his obsessively ordered apartment contemplating suicide. Such thoughts are nothing new: When his brother, Yukio (Yutaka Matsushige), a gangster from Tokyo who unexpectedly shows up at Kenji's door needing a place to hide, he's hardly surprised to find a noose dangling from his brother's ceiling. Pretty young Nid (Laila Boonyasak), a Thai teenager who dresses as a Japanese schoolgirl to please the clientele at the Bangkok hostess bar where she works, briefly flits into Kenji's life the day she visits the library; after leafing through a children's book about a lizard who awakens to find himself the last living creature in the universe, she leaves. Kenji spots her again that night on a bustling Bangkok bridge. He's once again preparing to kill himself when the battered VW bug carrying Nid and her sister, Noi (Sinitta Boonyasak), comes to a screeching halt right in front of him. Noi, having just learned that her sister slept with her volatile boyfriend, Jon (Thiti Phum-Orn), throws Nid out of the car, and before anyone can say another word, a speeding car runs Nid down. Kenji and Noi rush her to the hospital, but it's too late. And it gets worse. That night Yukio returns home with a "friend" he's just met at a bar, a friend who soon shoots Yukio to death. Luckily, Kenji had moments before found Yukio's gun, and after dispatching the hit man and hiding their bodies, Kenji seeks refuge with Noi in her unbelievably dirty beach house. Like the lizard in the story, they've both been abandoned to the universe, but the unusual solace they find in each other's company (neither speaks the other's language particularly well) is soon threatened by Jo and a trio of equally scary yakuza (including Japanese shock-auteur Takashi Miike and his ICHII/GOZU cowriter Sakichi Sato) who've come looking for their hit man's killer. Stylishly shot by expat cinematographer Christopher Doyle, the film's rich, languid style recalls the hot Indochinese cool of Tran Anh Hung (CYCLO). But there's something more interesting going on here than slavish imitation: In true surrealist style, Ratanaruang bends the reality of his film's surfaces to expose latent psychological truths. Co-written by the popular Thai novelist Prabda Yoon, Ratanaruang's fluid screenplay belies a knotty complexity that also lingers just below the smooth surface.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: There's an unusual talent at play in Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang's third feature: Ratanaruang's simple willingness to tie different strands of melancholy melodramas and violent yakuza thrillers together with flashes of surreal mystery immediately sets… (more)

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