As a lifelong dedicated fan of Wong Kar-Wai’s (I watched In the Mood for Love at way too young of an age with my mom), I was excited to screen director Baz Poonpiriya’s One for the Road at Sundance, which brought in Wong as the producer. While solely the vision of Baz Poonpiriya, One for the Road feels spiritually like one of Wong’s films. A story about friendship, about love, about missed and lost connections, the film is indulgent in so many aspects and drama is one of them. I unabashedly loved this film.
Boss (Tor Thanapob) is a charming bartender in New York City and an unapologetic ladies’ man. After getting a call from his estranged friend Aood (Ice Natara), who tells him that he is dying from cancer, he flies back to Bangkok to see him. The two journey in Aood’s old car quite literally down memory lane as Boss drives Aood across the country to find closure with his ex-girlfriends before he dies. As the story unfolds, we learn about Boss and Aood’s friendship, the reason for their estrangement, and ultimately what brought them together. By the end of the trip, Aood reveals one last truth to Boss about the love of his life, Prim (Violette Wautier), in an effort to find final closure with Boss as well.
One for the Road is a many-layered story. Much like the cocktails that Boss and Prim love so much, the film is a mixture of many things: a love letter to Thailand’s beautiful cities, a road trip between two friends, the lifespan of a relationship, the price and hidden side of privilege and class, jealousy and regret. What starts as a simple premise unfolds in a natural manner into a complicated story about two men reminiscing their youth and coming to accept the reality of the end of things.
Much of the benefit of the film comes from the road trip framework that holds up about two-thirds of the film. We are treated to little vignettes of the past as we learn of Aood’s relationships. We meet his ex-girlfriends, one who runs a dance studio but is injured, another who is a rising actress, and another who is married and a mother. The story twists what you would expect from the reunions and often gives it a unique and unexpected insight. Throughout all of this, Boss watches on, having seemingly been constant in Aood’s life throughout these moments.
The last third of the film takes another twist and we now learn Boss’s past. Without giving much away, we learn about how his move to New York City with his girlfriend Prim lead eventually to meeting Aood and also losing Prim, turning him from a fairly naive and innocent young man to the cool lothario we know today. When the truth is revealed, Boss and Aood’s relationship is severed, but not obliterated. The eventual ending feels immensely gratifying after watching these two on their journey and the slow meandering pace of One for the Road actually serves to embellish the key moments instead of drag it down.
While I love a dramatic story, and One for the Road is very dramatic, it does side-step some of the more grounding issues that might have come up. Because the story seems almost to reflect a modern fairytale or folktale, it can sometimes be forgiven that this can just be a story about two men finding themselves again. Still, when we learn Prim’s story and Boss’s sister’s (Rhatha Phongam) story, it is a reminder that there is a vast world of gender struggles that women must overcome both in Thailand and in New York. Distinctly, Prim’s immigrant story feels rich with potential, but in an already lengthy film, there is no room to explore it. Boss’s sister’s life is even more complicated and her own storyline actually acts as one of the main plot twists of the story.
On the technical side, Vichaya Vatanasapt brings together a fantastic original score, and the accompanying road trip music hits add a stylistic retro flair. Poonpiriya is an exciting director, bouncing from one scene in the past to one in the present expertly. The film is luscious and colorful, saturated in intense hues from golden sunsets to neon nightscapes. One for the Road tells a romantic and dreamlike story seeped in personal nostalgia that seems to exist in its own rose-colored world.
This film review was based on the premiere at Sundance Film Festival 2021 and won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Creative Vision. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution. Photo Courtesy of Sundance Institute.