Set against the backdrop of tourist hotspot Bangkok, Soi Cowboy concerns the awkward relationship between Tobias (Bro), an obese westerner, and his pregnant Thai girlfriend Koi (Thampanyasan). Its a largely loveless situation – he tries to buy her affections with a succession of stuffed animals and overpriced jewellery, while she seems content with the security her impotent beau offers.
British director Thomas Clay approaches the story in a documentary like manner, granting us an intimate, but highly uncomfortable, insight into the relationship between the pair of relative strangers. In an early sequence, a typically monotonous morning in the unlikely duos life simmers along incredibly slowly, marking each and every lifeless beat in their routine. At times, the dragging pace feels almost unbearable, but Clay successfully utilises it to expose the finer details in the characters distant relationship. We see each and every misdirected glance and feel the palpable chill from the frosty romance.
Its an immersive and consuming experience, and by the time the first sequence has played out in full, were given every piece of exposition we need. Theres little need for dialogue in these early scenes, and in fact theres very few words spoken. Clay relies heavily on his visuals, and while at first glance his choice of shots may seem like random filler, hes in fact expertly illustrating a world of mundane routine and a life of monotony.
These drawn out sequences, seemingly uneventful, also serve to highlight the moments of genuine intimacy between Tobias and Koi. After Tobias spends a morning idling about the streets and stores of Bangkok, he returns home bearing worthless gifts for Kois amusement. The young woman is pleased at the bounty, but its only a temporary distraction from a tedious existence.
Clays directorial approach wont please everyone though. His careful, laboured efforts are effective and well judged; but there are moments where the technique seems indulgent rather than practical and purposeful. Nonetheless, Clay more often than not hits high notes. In the earlier, droning stretches of the film, he opts to use dreary monochrome. The technique perfectly fits the lifeless routines, and serves a stark contrast to the neon lit, touristy perception of the streets of Bangkok. Later on in the film, when Tobias and Koi leave the confines of their tiny apartment for a road trip, Clay switches to colour, igniting the screen and matching the vibrant change in both narrative and characters.
Overall Verdict: A thoughtful and well executed tale that bears the hallmarks of a talented director; Soi Cowboy mightnt be to everybodys taste but is an impressive and engaging effort nonetheless.
Reviewer: David Steele