‘Redlife’ Review: A Slow Film About Bangkok’s Underbelly

There are many films based on the underbellies and the red-light districts of cities around the world. Most of the stories surrounding them are dramas or crime-related and throw light on the lives of the people barely living on the money they earn through prostitution or other illegal activities. Redlife is a Thai-language neo-noir drama, directed by Ekalak Klunson, released on October 25, 2023. The movie is two hours long and discusses the lives led by young men and women living on the streets of Bangkok and trying to find a purpose in life.

The movie begins with Som, a young teenager who has been facing issues because her mother, Aoi, is a prostitute. The mother is trying her best to provide her daughter with a proper education. Aoi does not want her daughter to join her profession and works hard to gather enough for their living and school fees. Aoi has an old rich man as her regular customer who offers her money from time to time, and she was expecting him to help her with Som’s education. Som, on the other hand, had become friends with Peach, a popular girl from the school. Som aspires to have a life of luxury that Peach and her friends lead. Som also has a confidant, Uncle Guk, who understands the mental and physiological changes she is going through.

Ter is a lowly criminal who lives off of petty crimes he carries out on the streets of Bangkok. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Mind, is a prostitute who is trying to earn and save enough money to move away from the city and start fresh in the countryside. Ter is a jealous boyfriend who is having trouble coming to terms with Mind’s job, and things go south very quickly for them. Was Ter coming close to ruining Mind’s source of income? Were Peach and Som falling in love? Will Aoi ever understand that Som’s changing behavior was probably because of her age?

The movie has a good start as it establishes the hardships everyone faces daily. The writing is stretched, and it takes its own sweet time in discussing the matter concerning Som and her mother and the relationship they share. There is an element of dysfunctionality in their relationship only because Som has begun to resent the kind of work her mother is into and has refused to acknowledge her publicly. Writers Ekalak Klunson, Aummaraporn Phandintong, and Jiraporn Saelee give in-depth talks about why Som was feeling awkward and why her first tryst with love happened at a time when she was on the lookout for genuine affection. The young woman wanted to lead a life her mother never had. The writers slowed down the screenplay just to describe this emotion, and they ended up having to take the repetitive route even though their point was established very early in the film. Many scenes could have been chopped off on the editing table. Unfortunately, a lot of them were just added to pad the run time of the show.

The subplot involving Ter being jealous of Mind’s work could have been dealt with in a few scenes instead of beating around the bush by trying to prove the same point repeatedly. This not only caused the film to slack, but it also reduced the engagement value after a point. This two-hour-long film could have been wrapped up in ninety minutes if the director and the writers had not spent a lot of time duplicating one thought many times. Many aspects and layers are discussed in this movie about the underbelly of a megacity like Bangkok, but a lot of them were ignored after a point.

The writers beautifully capture the emotions of these lead characters, who also deserve love and aim for a life that could uplift them from poverty. Their dreams also matter, but somehow most of them get sucked into the cycle of poverty and cannot seem to find a way out. These subplots were good, but the makers sadly did not explore them. Teenagers exploring their sexuality are briefly discussed, but again, the love story is a letdown. There is also talk about how women and children are supposed to get tested regularly, especially if the parent’s job involves soliciting regularly.

There was also the subplot involving the major heartbreak of the lead character, which was hardly explored by the makers. Instead of establishing the main plot, the director and the writers could have polished these subplots and offered a far more emotional tale of love and loss. Redlife is supposed to make the viewers emotional as it reaches its end. Sadly, the movie only exhausts the viewers, as they cannot wait to see where every character ends up. All the stories involving the main characters are connected, which culminates in a tragic ending, just like in Vantage Point and Amores Perros. The ending does not generate the emotion of pain, and it is hardly a tearjerker. Redlife could have explored the suicidal thoughts young men and women in the movie go through and how they do not have the basic income to consider going to a physician or a mental health counsellor for their wellbeing.

The movie is very disjointed, as the story takes a time jump, but there is hardly any mention of it. Music by Wuttipong Leetrakul adds to the layer of pain everyone in the movie is going through. Coupled with great cinematography by Boonyanuch Kraithong, it adds a touch of melancholy and creates an ambiance of desperation and frustration. The performances by all the actors take the film forward and make it engaging to a certain extent. Thiti Mahayotaruk as Ter is excellent as the jealous boyfriend who is aware of his misdemeanor but can’t seem to bring his emotions under control. Supitcha Sungkajinda, as Som, is brilliant as the teenage girl struggling with her first love. She is especially great in the climatic sequences that involve being in touch with her emotions. Krongthong Rachatawan, as Aoi, Som’s mother, portrays the desperation of a mother trying to provide everything for her only daughter. The woman, though, is independent and proud of it. Karnpicha Pongpanit as Mind is terrific as Ter’s girlfriend, who is trying hard to not be bothered by her boyfriend’s outbursts, but her patience is eventually tested.

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Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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This two-hour-long neo-noir drama is unfortunately a very slow film that tries hard to explore Bangkok’s red-light district and other underbellies.'Redlife' Review: A Slow Film About Bangkok’s Underbelly