In the introduction to this film, director Baz Poonpiriya said “One for the Road” is a very personal film in which he shares some of his experiences. This buddy film takes us from New York to Thailand and back as two friends come together for one last time and confront death, betrayal and the meaning of love and friendship. Under producer Wong Kar Wai, we can see Wong’s influence on Poonpiriya in the beautiful saturated colors and the poignant air of nostalgia.
The film begins in Bangkok during the summer. A teary-eyed man, Aood (Ice Natara), listens to Midnight Riders , a program for the late hours and early morning night owls featuring oldies, while he is deleting names from his cellphone contact list. We see that he has Boss, Alice and Dad still there.
The promiscuous Boss (Tor Thanapob) runs the crowded bar in New York City by himself. The most notable decor item is an old telephone booth. Boss is a slick practitioner of mixology, but he’s not a performer like Tom Cruise’s Brian Flanagan in the 1988 “Cocktail.” He’s more of a predator; he can spot his prey and goes for the no-strings-attached one-nighters.
On this particular night, he’s about to bang a bar bimbo after hours when an urgent phone call from Bangkok interrupts him and Boss’ paramour du nuit leaves. Aood, an old friend is reaching out. Aood’s father died of cancer and now, he too is dying. That’s a real libido killer. He asks Boss to close the bar for a month and come back home. If that sounds ludicrous, then you’ll have to wait to learn how Boss can afford that. When Boss arrives in Bangkok, he learns Aood’s bucket list doesn’t include bungee jumping or skydiving. He wants to visit old girlfriends and say good-bye without telling them he’s dying. Due to his fragile health, he can’t drive alone and the cities he must go to aren’t that close together.
Aood’s father, Charnwut Chantarachoke, was a DJ, had the graveyard time slot for his program: Midnight Riders. Aood has brought along cassette tapes of all his shows. There’s a theme song for everyone. Their journey begins with “One.”
Alice, the red-haired dancer, is Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” In flashbacks, we see that Alice left with Aood, leaving NYC to return to Thailand where she started a small dance studio in Korat. Korat is also known as Nakhon Ratchasima. According to Google Map, it’s a little over a three-hour drive from Bangkok. The city has become a processing center for rice, tapioca and sugar and has four universities. Alice doesn’t want to see Aood so Boss acts as his wing man, attempting to orchestrate the meeting and telling her Aood is bound for New York City, leaving Thailand for good.
Aood had been Boss’ housemate, living in Boss’ penthouse rent-free. He’d been waiting for Boss to finally start his bar, an idea that Boss had been talking about for a long time. Alice broke up this bromance, but the Alice-Aood romance didn’t last.
Next they travel to see Noona in Samut Songkhram. From Korat, Samut Songkhram is about a four-hour drive and the place where the infamous Chang and Eng Bunker were born (1811). Noona changed her name to Nunar and became a successful actress in Thailand. Her song is the “Bridal Chorus” from Richard Wagner’s opera, “Lohengrin.” Boss will interrupt the wedding, but not in a way that you might expect.
From Samut Songkhram the two go to Chiang Mai. That’s about nine and a half hours by car. Chiang Mai is known for its temples both inside and outside of the city. Roong in Chiang Mai is now married to a rich White guy and has a child, Lola. She pretends to be in Singapore as Boss and Aood wait in the rain. Her song is Supertramp’s “Dreamer.”
From Chiang Mai the two travel about ten-hours to Pattaya were the Boss’ sister, Tak, and her family live. We never see Boss’s father, but Aood releases his father’s ashes (Cat Stevens’ “Father & Son”). Boss hasn’t been back for a decade. There we learn how Boss learned about mixing drinks and meet his stepbrother, Poom. Poom isn’t a dreamer and may bring Boss’ dream to an economic end.
Aood reveals a load of hurt. Who hasn’t done the wrong thing and regretted some unkind action toward a loved one? Through flashbacks both the heady days of love and the hurtful moments of anger are revealed. How the modest Aood became friends with the well-to-do Boss is also shown and the secret that Aood carries brings the film to a close. Feeling his mortality, Aood wants Boss to move beyond his lifestyle that considers “relationships are like drinking, you go with the flow.” Boss flows effortlessly from one nameless woman to another, but it wasn’t always so.
In a culture where sex tourism is rampant, “One for the Road” seems to ask if love can survive despite mercenary motivations and how sex as commerce shapes a society and its understanding of love and friendship. In these COVID-19 times, a road trip, drinking and casual sex might seem like a different reality. Still you might be weighing your regrets against your potential mortality. How do we stop being alone? Having children doesn’t mean you won’t die alone. Aood didn’t return for his father’s funeral. And who knows where Boss’ father might be.
“One for the Road,” is a welcome look at the tragedy of love and friendship that crosses over into an insular Asian American community. Like Poonpiriya’s previous feature, “Bad Genius,” the lifestyles of the rich and the poor are contrasted. Yet there’s a slightly dreamy quality even in the poorer neighborhoods thanks to cinematographer Phaklao Jiraungkoonkun. Moreover, the characters are relatable and earnest. I’m glad I got to know them on the screen although I’m not sure I’d like to know them in person.
“One for the Road” streamed its world premiere on 28 January 2021 at Sundance Film Festival as part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. In Thai and English with English subtitles. “One for the Road” won the Sundance World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Creative Vision.