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Delightfully quirky and witty, this dark comedy on the perils of workaholism and the realities of freelancing is one of the most original films we've seen this year
Among the many GTH rom-coms we've come to love in recent years, we must confess that 'Heart Attack' is easily our very favourite – and that is despite the fact that it isn't a rom-com in the strictest sense of the word. Sure, there is a budding romance on the side between the 30-year-old Yoon (Sunny Suwanmethanont) and his regular public hospital doctor Imm (Davika Hoorne), as well as occasional bursts of laugh-out-loud humour courtesy of the same two leads, but at its heart (pun intended), this is a dark comedy about the perils of becoming a slave to the pursuit of career excellence above all else in life, including health, companionship and general well- being.
To translate such a theme into the subject of a movie isn't at all intuitive, which is all the more reason why writer-director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit deserves credit for having done so in such a quirky, witty and original fashion. Thamrongrattanarit builds an intimate character study around Yoon's freelance graphic designer, who is so devoted to his work that he prides himself for being able to go five days without sleep at the start of the film, while pooh- poohing the Ministry of Health's advice that every person should sleep at least six to eight hours a day. Yoon's zeal is partly his own desire to be the best in the industry and partly a result of the nature of the industry itself, in particular the whims and fancies of creative types who want a certain image to have a certain feel one day and a different feel the next.
Because of his blind commitment to work, Yoon has a grand total of three friends – one, his junior producer at an advertising agency named Je (Violette Wautier); two, a 7-Eleven store attendant named Kai from which he gets his favourite food of shrimp dumplings; and last, an old acquaintance whom he hasn't seen in years that he re- connects with at the former's father's funeral. He doesn't indulge in any recreational activities, for he sees time spent on these as time that could be better spent on yet another work assignment. And yes, sleep is also, to him, a waste of time. All that works out fine until he starts developing a rash on the back of his neck, which in no time spreads to the rest of his body.
After spending close to seven thousand baht at a private doctor and seeing no appreciable improvement to his condition (because he refuses to take the medicine that states sleepiness as one of the side effects), Yoon joins the snaking queues at a public hospital and meets Imm, a young resident who is still studying her medical books. As much as you'd like to see their doctor-patient relationship develop into love, Thamrongrattanarit avoids the obvious cliché and opts instead for something much more textured.
It is Imm who points out without resorting to platitudes just how absurd and damaging his lifestyle has been, the rashes only an external manifestation of how his body is breaking down inside. It is also Imm who suggests how he can change his life, whether is it taking up daily exercises, picking up a new hobby, developing new friendships or visiting the beach. Indeed, it is precisely Imm's personal and somewhat intimate touch that leads Yoon to have a change of heart, even taking his bedtime pills that he dubs 'elephant tranquilisers' just so he would not upset her. Because Thamrongrattanarit tells his story by and large from Yoon's perspective, there is no doubt that Yoon is in fact in love with Imm, but like our sleep-addled protagonist, we have no way of telling if she feels the same way.
Yet that ambiguity isn't necessarily a bad thing; in fact, keeping his viewer in suspense in the same way that Yoon is kept guessing allows Thamrongrattanarit to engender empathy for the self- destructive individual. No matter that we do not belong to the same industry, Yoon's fanaticism to be the best at what he does is easily identifiable. Ditto the unreasonable deadlines and unending list of demands that he has to fulfil as part of the job. Thamrongrattanarit uses Yoon's monologues to let us get inside the head of his lead character, but Suwanmethanont delivers a performance with such conviction that we not only hear but feel his desires, disappointments, frustrations and at the end of all that, his sense of inner peace.
Yoon's self-absorbed nature means that a good number of scenes consist of him in his spare bedroom staring at his Mac while scribbling on his sketchpad; that is also why his time with Imm is nicely complementary, even though much of it is spent within the confines of an outpatient visitation room. Thamrongrattanarit lets Yoon and Imm share about six or so extended scenes together, never rushing each of them but instead letting a sweet and natural chemistry develop out of their interactions. Like we said at the start, this doesn't build into a romance between the pair, but an undeniable connection that leads both to want the best for each other in utmost sincerity.
And so, even though 'Heart Attack' isn't a rom-com per se, it is winning in its observations and witticisms about the 'freelancing' profession, about choosing one's priorities in life, and about embracing the people and things that matter. At slightly over two hours, it is admittedly a tad longer and less punchy than it could be, but Thamrongrattanarit keeps a sharp focus throughout on Yoon, and that investment largely pays off in a character whom we grow over the course of the movie to root for. It is a carefully wrought character study all right, with its own delightfully distinctive voice and style that makes it one of the best – if not the most original – GTH film we've seen.
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