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Film Review: The Elephant King
Director: Seth Grossman (2006)
(
As published in The Cambridge Film Festival Daily 11/07/07)

Writer/ director Seth Grossman may well be a name to watch out for in the future. The Elephant King, his first feature-length film, is a gritty yet lavish affair, packed with plenty of subtly effective moments of dark comedy.

Set against the dizzyingly hedonistic backdrop of the Thai city of Chung Mai, the film follows the tale of two very different siblings whose relationship will be forever changed by their time there. Having fraudulently obtained a university research grant, reckless, self-confident Jake Hunt (Jonno Roberts) has descended into a nihilistic haze of drink, drugs and debauchery. Following him there, younger brother Ollie (Tate Ellington), a somewhat shy and reclusive young man, finds he too is drawn into this other world of exotic women, stray elephants and kickboxing lady-boys, and his growing love for Thai beauty Lek (Florence Faivre) soon has fateful consequences for both men.

It is this intelligent dynamic between the characters, portrayed wonderfully by a strong cast, combined with a rich colourful mise-en-scene, that make the film a real joy to watch. Grossman masterfully weaves together the sub-texts of character and setting, with the polar opposition of the two brother's personalities reflecting Thailand's own dichotomy of being a predominantly Buddhist nation in which all the pleasures of the flesh are for sale.

By the directors own admission, the film's message is somewhat splintered, but this does not lessen it's impact. As a musing on life, sibling relationships, and what he describes as 'the redemptive quality of a self-destructive nature', the film succeeds spectacularly in being both entertaining and thought provoking in equal measures.

 

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