“I Fine Thank You Love You,” the new rom-com studio blockbuster, makes much of that smoldering anxiety familiar to Thai students of English.
Early in the film’s first act, Yim, a foul-mouthed maintenance engineer with second-grade English struggles to understand his tutor, Pleng, during their first session. Following a few simple instructions comes the dreadful moment: “Do you understand?” she asks. After some painful moments, Yim, who clearly does not, seizes on the last syllable heard and hesitantly rises to his feet.
While foreigners, who puzzle over questions such as “Do you know how to eat food here?” at restaurants offering “Waterfall Pig” and “Prostitute Curry,” may shake their heads at tortured, word-for-word translations, many Thais have a particular pride for their Tinglish creations and brave attempts to speak the global tongue instead of just shying away.
For that sentimentality and a steady flow of reliable laughs, “I Fine Thank You Love You” was rewarded by a public eager to escape stressful days with year’s biggest box office weekend. The rom-com had the second-highest open day in domestic history at THB29 million, surpassing Thailand’s highest grossing film ever, 2013’s Phi Maak, by THB9 million.
While the title may enrage the grammar police, its dialogue is endearing to anyone recognizing the first – and possibly only – English sentences they remember. Especially those for whom every school day began with the same dry, depressing dialogue: “Stand up, please. Good morning, teacher. How are you? I’m fine. Thank you. And you?”
“A student trying to deliver a Tinglish sentence is classic Thai comedy,” said producer Jira Malikul, whose inspiration came from a English tutoring session he saw at a coffee shop.
The movie tells the story of tutor Pleng, who is asked by a Japanese student – Yim’s girlfriend – to translate a breakup message to him. Instead, Yim blames Pleng for being dumped and demands she to teach him English so he can better communicate with his girl and get a job to follow her to the United States. As the tutoring sessions progress, Pleng falls for her mannerless student.
The comedy says something about post-globalization Thailand with characters who struggle with English by either being shy and awkward or making exaggerated, comedic efforts. A lot of the laughs come from a self-deprecating look at how language affects class and status, such as a Thai character who tries to sound smarter and “Hi-So” by imitating the terrible Thai spoken by foreigners.
The traditional Thai method of learning just for the sake of passing a test becomes the main plot device, as Yim calls upon his fellow engineers to prep him with questions he might be asked in a job interview and Pleng helps put together a cheat sheet.
While director Mez Tharatorn gets the audience hooked with a relatable, human story, most of the movie is dedicated to cheap comedy. There’s nothing new here – a fat guy’s butt, some poop jokes and lots of spitting. The direction relied on compelling heavy doses of overacting to get the laughs, all of which are unfortunately enhanced by sound effects cueing the audience when it should laugh.
However the start-to-credits flow of funny scenes – some good, others gross – make people walk out with a smile. Those smiles are insured by a music video featuring a funny dance runs at the end; If they’re laughing, they’re loving it.
Another big draw for the film is its talent. Sunny Suwanmethanon’s Yim captures the popular actor’s down-to-earth persona, while Ice Preechaya proves her leading lady bonafides again as Pleng after doing the same in Mez’ previous hit, “ATM: Er Rak Error,” which generated THB152 million in ticket sales.
Japanese adult star-gone-mainstream star, AV model Sola Aoi, plays the part of a hot Japanese girl in Thailand again, as she famously did in 2008’s sexually charged character in Hormones. Since then, Aoi’s been a no-brainer for hot Japanese girl roles in Thai cinema.
“I Fine Thank You Love You” succeeds in wielding reliable tools to draw laughter out of “Thainess,” but it doesn’t create any new cinematic value, pose any important questions nor even dare suggest any profound lessons. But neither does it pretend to.
As we’ve learned from other comedies by studio GMM Tai Hub, including its previous blockbuster Phi Maak, filmmakers can always take thoughtless fun to the bank. “I Fine Thank You Love You” looks like it’s going to create a beaucoup bundle of shareholder value.
Since its release Wednesday, English subtitles have been added to screenings at some theaters. While the the humor is aimed squarely at the hearts of Thai audiences, the complication-free storyline and exaggerated acting make it possible for those with moderate Thai to understand, even without. Check listings for more information.
Photos: GMM Tai Hub