Film Review: Happy Old Year | ฮาวทูทิ้ง.. ทิ้งอย่างไรไม่ให้เหลือเธอ (2019)


Who would have known what 2020 would bring? That question deserves a double wink. Opened in Thailand in December, Happy Old Year by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit is pitched as a timely send off to old memories, unfinished affairs of the heart and 2019. 

2019 was the year decluttering guru Marie Kondo shot to fame with her ‘spark joy’ philosophy. Happy Old Year wants to put Marie Kondo back into her closet and tell her, ‘You are a terrible influence’. The film tells the story of young adult, Jean, played by Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying of Bad Genius fame, who wants to transform her family living space into a zen-like office. Essentially, the story is a battle between a kind of housekeeping facism and making room for memories and old connections. Also operating on a somewhat funny level is the imposition of Swedish minimalism in maximalist Bangkok and the side effects of it. A little backstory here – Jean has just returned from Sweden, after years of living there, to Southeast Asia’s city of excesses, Bangkok. 

Somehow, the very thought of decluttering a typical working class home in Bangkok is oxymoronic and smacks of the kind of ironic humour found in Thai commercials. And this is Nawapol, king of the offbeat, so the story expectedly defies reason a little and Jean’s decluttering exercise is taken to the extreme. She bears no mercy for sentimentality. Crumbs from her past relationships, an estranged boyfriend and a runaway father, are ruthlessly swept away. She even has a decluttering manifesto to abide by which spells out in title card frames, in the ways of the minimalistic Nazi. 

It is also grappling with the decluttering of human relationships that locks down the emotional core of the film. Can we ever draw the line on friendships? A major portion of the film explores Jean dealing with her closure with Aim, an ex-boyfriend whom she had callously drifted away from when she left Bangkok for Sweden. The need to return him a camera he left behind leads Jean to an awkward reunion with Aim, whom she learns has moved on with another girl who was introduced as his fiancée. Suddenly, old wounds are reopened and Jean gets more than what she bargains for and what she can emotionally handle. 

Just because it is the elephant in the room does not mean the story has to move at a laborious pace. The emotional entanglement with Aim is the hardest to let go in Jean’s journey to declutter but it is one arc stretched too long. Besides regret, it was hard to find other emotional notes in the entanglement. In fact, the film seems to present a wry take on the emotional pitfalls of decluttering with bits of signature Nawapol humour, echoing the sensibilities and tone of a recipe book. It touches several raw emotional nerves but never really reaches a point of poignancy. It had an opportunity with the backstory of Jean’s father and the piano. But beyond the – pardon the pun – high octave hysterics of Jean’s mother in their debate over the fate of the piano, a little expose on why her father disappeared from their lives would have lent more gravity to the family drama. Otherwise, Jean’s mother just seems a little, you know, mad. 

Among the items dumped in the great clean out, several old photos hit some emotional sweet spots in the film. It started with photos of some candid college tomfoolery involving Jean and Aim. Then came the mysterious photo capturing the encounter of two strangers who were to later to become husband and wife. But most tender of all, was an old family photo with Jean’s father playing the piano to the doe-eyed delight of Jean and her brother. The film tried to register many different notes around the theme of decluttering, such as visual design, humour, loss, dilemma. Yet one particular note rang louder than the others: nostalgia. Particularly in these photo moments, we found nostalgia and a connection to something more tangible. Everything else dumped into the mix felt nameless and transient. It is also interesting to note that these photo moments were also moments of a medium crossover in the film, completing what the rest of the visual narrative could not fill. 

As Jean moves closer to achieving the desired minimal look for her office, the film bears an interesting duality of excitement towards seeing the finished transformation and the notion that something is slowly going amiss. What’s disappointing is that this builds up, rather glacially, towards a fence-sitting ending of self-doubt. What’s nice is that it ends with a sentimental Thai Song. Don’t know the lyrics but they all have a sweet ring to it. And what’s left to imagine is possibly Aim’s new life in Southeast Asia’s most decluttered and sterile capital, Singapore. Big warm welcome. 

- Jeremy Sing

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