6.6/10
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32 user 1 critic

Bangkok Girl (2005)

Falang: Behind Bangkok's Smile (original title)
"Bangkok Girl" is a 'remarkably accomplished, beautifully photographed and intimate debut documentary that puts a human face on the devastating social issue that, sadly, is the fate of too ... See full summary »

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Cast

Credited cast:
Jordan Clark ...
Narrator (voice)
Sirirat Rapsithorn ...
Pla
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Storyline

"Bangkok Girl" is a 'remarkably accomplished, beautifully photographed and intimate debut documentary that puts a human face on the devastating social issue that, sadly, is the fate of too many impoverished girls.' The documentary provides a glimpse of Thailand's sex tourism told through the experiences of a 19-year-old bar girl named Pla. Written by Production Review

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Genres:

Documentary | Drama

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Details

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Release Date:

8 May 2007 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Bangkok Girl  »

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Budget:

CAD 65,000 (estimated)
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1.66 : 1
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Goofs

Jordan Clark says he never appears in the film to keep a voyeuristic feel. There is one scene when he first meets Pla where he is seen in the mirror of the bar. See more »

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User Reviews

 
Layers of ambiguity and deception
11 May 2015 | by See all my reviews

This documentary is a work of art with layers of deception that need to be peeled away as you watch it with a satisfyingly ambiguous ending that leaves you thinking about the documentary long after it is over.

If you take the surface reading, you believe Jordan the film-maker is this white-knight nice-guy who is concerned about the sex-trade in Thailand, and concerned about the plight of poor little Pla, a beautiful Thai bar girl in the red light district of Bangkok, feeling a portrait of her will illuminate the plight of the sex workers in Thailand.

And on that same surface reading you also believe Pla ... that she is a bar-tender, who has chastely never been lured into turning a trick. That after 6 years working the bar off Sukhumvit Rd, Bangkok's notorious red-light district, and only pouring drinks, she decides for the first time ever to have her bar-fine bought to spend time with a westerner, your honest film-maker, hero and narrator.

As you watch, you start suspecting Pla is playing a standard hustle that is as practiced as anything out of a movie starring Paul Newman. She is a wonder, her hustle is so refined.

Despite her limited English she can communicate using facial expressions, share an inside joke with Jordan without words mocking those around her in private communication, as she draws him deeper in, and us as the viewer by proxy get to see her repertoire of calculated "self- revealing" backstories and sob-story routines that can only be solved with Jordan's money, all delivered with genuine charm and vulnerability.

Now it becomes an "unreliable narrator" psychodrama with Pla playing the Femme Fatale as you wonder if poor wet-behind-the-ears Jordan is going to be pulled in and how badly he is going to be swindled.

But is Jordan being straight-up? He is starting to get a bit creepy in his obsession with Pla. Is he really as naive as he is making out? Does he really think that Pla is "special", not-a-whore? And does he really think he is "special", not-a-john? Or is he just playing his role in a "Girlfriend Experience" prostitute-john relationship, intentionally ignoring all the "tells"?

There are indications that he is aware. A naive question about why her mother would be ashamed of what Pla does ... she is after all just a bar-tender, right? And an unsatisfactory answer. As she starts to give him the inevitable sob-story that requires money for a sick relative, he doesn't question that she knows the word for "thyroid" in English even though her vocabulary is less than 1000 words.

On other occasions he makes excuses for her with a voice over narration as she deals with a drunk john who has clearly slept with her before by saying "she is more experienced at diffusing such a situation" ... leaving open that she can grimace and communicate her displeasure with Jordan all the while leaving drunk john oblivious since he has no view of her face, skillfully playing both johns at once. He seems to take at face value that she does not know who the john is afterwards despite the obvious evidence to the contrary.

Even Jordan's narrative itself is open to question as he leaves ambiguous the question of whether he is sleeping with Pla even though conversations are taking place in the intimacy of his hotel, lazing about. He intimates that he may fall for Pla's gambits give her money but never comes out and confirms or denies it.

Ultimately upon returning to Canada he receives from a friend of hers a bar-girl's story to ensure the relationship is over and she is never contacted by him. This story, unbeknown to the friend, actually makes the documentary. The claim is therefore never investigated.

Only the naive would believe such a story without evidence, but some things are left better off uninvestigated by film-maker wanting to sell a documentary. Further we get not even a recording of the phone conversation with Pla's friend informing him, but only his narration in a "take my word for it". Certainly no trip back to Thailand to track down her mother (whom he photographed during the documentary), investigate the claims, get childhood photos to include in a back- story.

Nothing in the whole documentary was ever verified. The whole thing completely floats on what she says and what he says, both of them unreliable.

So the ambiguous twist in this whole story is that Jordan actually used her final story to get wide release of his little documentary. And he pulled it off while framing himself not as a prostitute's john, but an honest soul making a loving tribute in such a way that it appeals to those wanting an account of the evils of Westerners exploiting the poor downtrodden women of the developing world. So Pla, as a result has been dragged kicking and screaming out of the closet as a sex-worker forever tainting her and having her spend the rest of her life disassociating herself from it.

It is more than likely that Pla at no stage even realized this was anything more than a john's voyeuristic kink, to photograph her all the time.

So ultimately perhaps it was Jordan that was swindling Pla the whole time by filming her trying to swindle him. That would be like a twist in the end of the darkest of films noirs. It may be that he has exploited Pla more than anyone ever before. But ambiguously perhaps also the face story may also be true. It is up to you, the viewer to make your decision.

For all those layers of deception and ambiguity the documentary is worth watching.


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