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Handle Me With Care
Year: 2008 Handle Me With Care
Kerttikamol Lata
has three arms
Director: Kongdej Jaturunrutasamee
Writer: Kongdej Jaturunrutasamee
Cast: Kerttikamol Lata, Supaksorn Chaimongkol
The Skinny: A sweet, surprising road movie about - get this - a guy with three arms! The filmmakers nix a Tim Burton-style meditation on alienation and instead deliver a character-driven road movie about two people who have a little extra where they perhaps would prefer not to. A charming and unexpected sleeper.
by Kozo :

A sweet and surprising road movie about a guy with three arms, Handle Me With Care dodges the obvious to deliver the unexpected, and it does so quietly and without calling attention to itself. This is a film loaded with a lesson or metaphor on society's intolerance, but director Kongdej Jaturunrutasamee sidesteps that obvious direction to tell a simple character story. Maybe that doesn't seem like such a feat, but the filmmakers employ something that makes all the difference, and cinema would be much better if all directors could practice it. That something? It's called restraint.

Kwan (Kerttikamol Lata) was born with three fully functioning arms, a talent that makes him useful, but understandably estranged. After his uncle - a tailor who custom-made all of Kwan's three-armed clothing - passes on, Kwan begins to feel truly alone. Following disappointments in love and career, he decides to take an offer from a surgeon in Bangkok to have his third arm amputated. Collecting his life savings, Kwan leaves his rural village and embarks on a journey to lose the extra limb.

The road, however, is not kind. Kwan loses his ride and his cash, and soon is hitching it to Bangkok without any money or food. Luckily, he finds some company in Na (Supaksorn Chaimongkol), a fellow hitchhiker who he saves from an attempted rape. Na turns out to have some empathy for Kwan; she's been blessed and cursed with large breasts, and is commonly judged based on her chest size. She knows what it's like to be looked upon for only your physical attributes - though really, her situation is nowhere near as bizarre or odd as Kwan's.

But to Na, Kwan's condition is far more desirable because it makes him truly special. In truth, both are really quite alike: they both have a little extra of something that they would prefer not to - except in Kwan's case, his extra makes it easier to sort mail and hang up laundry. The two continue towards Bangkok, he to lop off the extra arm and she to find her missing husband, finding misadventures and possible moments of closeness. As their trip nears its end, what will Kwan decide? Will he go through with the operation? Or will Na's acceptance of his condition sway him from doing something that can never be undone?

Handle Me With Care takes a sympathetic look at a character who would normally be considered a narrative freak. The premise of the film simply screams for a movie about alienation, with Kwan's three arms standing in for everybody's noble individuality. The standard commercial film playbook would usually make Kwan a massive pariah, thereby exposing the intolerance of humanity. Alternately, the filmmakers could turn Kwan into an inspirational hero, earning him the cheesy love and acceptance of all. Handle Me With Care occasionally seems like it will move in those clichéd directions, but it always turns the focus back to Kwan himself. The journey or lesson here is his, and the audience only learns through his experience, and not through some overriding lesson from the filmmakers. It's a narrow focus, but a very effective one.

That's how the film manages to subvert expectations as it does. By removing an overriding lesson, the film stops telling the audience what to feel - the very antithesis of modern commercial filmmaking. The result could backfire; some audiences may find Handle Me With Care to be off-putting because it doesn't do what they think it should do. The film can engender immediate disappointment as it's got very commercial elements (romance, a road trip, three arms), but what it chooses to do is not what most commercial films would. This is a film that takes a few risks, but it takes them not to impress the audience, but because that's where the character and story lead. Handle Me With Care may not end as audiences want it to - but, it may end the way that it should.

The film still has problems; it's overlong at two hours and meanders a bit while on the road - and again, it may not end in a way that's appealing or satisfying to all audiences. Still, the journey itself is pleasant and entertaining, with some gentle humor as well as a few tender moments between the leads that strike the proper emotional chord. Likewise, the Thai countryside is picturesque, the practical effects impressive (the third arm is created without CGI, but instead with a very coordinated "arm actor"), and the film manages a few welcome points on Kwan's predicament without reaching for the hammer. Handle Me With Care sways audiences instead of pummeling them, and is sometimes so reserved that a point of view may not be discernible. But it cares for its characters, and makes them seem real and worth the audience's time and genuine affection. That it achieves that using a three-armed man is what makes it special. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Udine Far East Film Festival, 2008)


image courtesy of Five Star Production Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen