By Sharon Calingasan
Directed by Kaprice Kea
Kaprice Kea’s Butterfly Man takes viewers on an eye-opening ride through Thailand as the story of Adam and Em unfolds through a series of escalating events, resulting in a beautiful and genuine bond of love and commitment. But, while it is tagged as an adventure and a romantic film, it’s also a work that explores treachery, Thailand’s sex trade and the presence of people that will take advantage of the ignorance of locals, luring them into so-called jobs in foreign countries yet, in reality, letting them fall into the evil trap of human trafficking and prostitution.
Adam, while being the more dominant character, symbolizing the “˜civilized’ world, is himself a rarity. Though he initially allows himself to be devoured by the “˜sex tourist-like’ attitude, he is, deep inside, a man with a conscience and, whose gentle demeanor makes him endeared not only to Em but to other locals, including Noi, a bar girl he spends a night with. On the other hand, Em, the local masseuse with whom Adam falls in love, symbolizes the heart of Thailand at its purest: meek, prayerful and trusting even as she herself tells Adam that she is a “˜bad woman’.
The film begins quite well with a few visually appealing shots and scenes but it really starts to gain pace and become engaging when the conflicts pile up one by one: Adam being forced to become a sort of courier and yet later discovering that he’s bringing along fake passports that will be used for illegal and dangerous reasons; Em admitting that she was the reason for Adam’s lost money resulting in Adam begging in the streets and selling his personal things; and, most of all, Adam’s quest to save Em from the merciless Bill Kincaid and his assistant Joey, resulting in Em being fatally wounded. Throughout these scenarios, the film is dominates by scenes of night time Thailand – particularly the bar joints and beach-side resorts, with all those scantily-clad ladies and gyrating dancers on the stage and droopy-eyed, half-drunk foreigners admiring their bodies, while others are happily seduced by loud and giggly Thai bar girls.
While viewers may eagerly anticipate a happy ending, the film doesn’t have one, at least where it concerns the romance and love story of Adam and Em. The saving grace here is the transformation in Adam’s life and his choice to live in Thailand along with Em’s family, finally finding a deeper meaning for his existence.
Acting and performance-wise, Stuart Laing as lead Adam is commendable but there are instances where he lacks depth and emotion. On the other hand, Napakpapha Nakprasitte as Em is a revelation and a breath of fresh air, able to handle her role with finesse, genuineness and clarity. Other actors worthy of mention include Vasa Vatcharayon as the bar girl, Noi. As she puts it, “I use my body to have money but I also use my brain” – she is not the no-brainer prostitute that you would normally expect and she carries her role with aplomb. Another notable supporting character is the entertaining Captain Mekong, portrayed by actor Thumnon Intapirat. He provides a touch of comedy to a very simple but meaningful wedding ceremony and, while the role is a minor one, it is nonetheless genuinely endearing.
By the picture’s end, viewers may find themselves with a couple of realizations that will help them remember this feature for quite a while. Butterfly Man will open your eyes to the beauty of Thailand, both in broad daylight and during the night time while, at the same time, presenting the blunt reality of the sex trade and exploited locals, just as it is with other tropical countries where foreigners abound. Moreover, Kea’s film allows you to appreciate the characters of Adam and Em, symbols of two entirely different cultures, brought together by the bond of friendship and, eventually, love. While fighting for her life, Em exquisitely sums up Adam with these words, “I believe you have a good heart, you save me, same-same in a movie.”
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