A group of intrepid passengers embark on a bus ride from Bangkok to the northern province of Nong Bua (the area is known as “I-San”). Hmm let me guess what will happen… monsters, hijackings, kickboxing transsexuals or perhaps a combination? Nope, the situation is much drier, the trip turns into a soap opera full of drama, romance, spite, claws and tears.
Director Mingmonkul Sonakul has created an enjoyable avant-garde film. From the outset the stylistic elements stand out like a sore thumb, but you soon get used to it and go along with the film, in much like the same way you would enjoy a fully developed soap opera. Nearly all of the film is staged on the bus, where a group of different people take on the personas of soap opera that is played on the bus radio. The actors mime the radios voices and go about within the bus engaging in soap opera scandal.
I-San Special is a celebration of film form and it is indeed representative of how a films form can play games with the audience. A large part of this film’s plot is supposedly staged on a lush hotel resort. Ok, so how is it feasible to portray a hotel within a moving bus? You can’t, but instead I-San Special uses cinematography, mise-en-scene, editing and sound to create a stage for action. For example, early on the film the two main characters are supposed to be beside the resort’s pool; the actors move to the back of the bus where a large vinyl diorama of a pool acts as a cover for the bus’ bleak back window. The camera tightly frames the characters’ heads against the pool backdrop; a little bit of atmosphere is added, and there you have it, a pool.
It’s extremely refreshing to see a film like this, and despite it being rather surreal I found myself quite enraptured by it. Perhaps the best way to get a load of this film is to sit back and relax — enjoy the playful ride that the bus garners. The use of sound, off-screen camera space and staging make me happy to see that people are still applying some cerebral content to their films.