By RUSSELL EDWARDS (Variety)
Bad karma does a slow fade, but gives the occasional wink, in “Invisible Waves,” Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s highly anticipated followup to “Last Life in the Universe.” Thai helmer, Japanese heartthrob Asano Tadanobu and Oz lenser Christopher Doyle form a pleasing combination of malevolence supported by dry wit. English-lingo limitations of the thesps will hamper sales in some territories, but the pic should go gangbusters throughout Asia and on the festival circuit.
In film noir tradition, the pic opens with Macau-residing Japanese assassin-cum-chef Kyoji (Asano Tadanobu) holding a man at gunpoint. Seiko (Tomono Kuga), the Japanese wife of Kyoji’s boss, arrives at Kyoji’s apartment to continue their steamy affair. Instead, Kyoji poisons her dinner. The next day, the newly widowed Wiwat (Toon Hiranyasup) has closed the up-market Hong Kong restaurant in which Kyoji works his day job.
Taking an imposed vacation, Kyoji sets sail for Phuket. As the Nipponese assassin boards the ship, a silhouetted figure is clearly observing him. The boat trip is a dream-logic, “Barton Fink”-flavored comedy of errors and meditation on karmic consequences. Only a few of Kyoji’s problems with his shabby cabin room are laugh-out loud funny, but the wry atmosphere prevents the script’s more philosophical aspects from becoming too heavy.
Narrative is unrushed and solo scripter Prabda Yoon reveals important plot points sparingly and obliquely. Unfortunately, the final couple of reels feel unnecessary.
Asano is solid as the central protag, and each of the supporting thesps are convincing. One exception is Gang Hye Jung, playing a winsome fellow traveller on board the boat, who’s hampered by flat phonetic delivery of English. While the casting of Gang may have been essential in securing coin from Korean company CJ Entertainment (and for securing Korean auds upon that territory’s commercial release), her awkward perf diminishes the pic.
Helming is restrained and makes maximum use of Doyle’s gliding camera. Lensing is so gray and gritty that the pic could easily be described as “film gris.” Evocative, slowly pulsing music by Hualampong Riddim is like an additional character, and successfully unifies the film.
Language:Thai | English | Japanese | Korean
Subtitles:English & Korean [.idx & .sub]