A scene from “Same Same But Different,” directed by German director Detlev Buck / Courtesy of ATNINE FILM
By Kwaak Je-yup
“Same Same But Different,” directed by German director Detlev Buck, is a conundrum because it tells a love story with the smallest dose of emotion on screen.
And this is why the film’s title capture the work’s essence in its entirety perfectly.
The film looks like a mix of love-affair cliches from the get-go and to an extent it is. A bored European teenager spends a hedonistic year in apparently lawless Cambodia, with sex, drugs and alcohol on tap. A romance blossoms between the blond-haired visitor and the petite local prostitute against all odds, including her having HIV.
What distinguishes the film, then, is the storytelling method of the two leads David Kross and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, recounting Benjamin Pruefer’s true story in a relentlessly unemotional fashion.
It makes a different movie-going experience for the local audience, who are saturated with over-the-top fairy tales and dramas.
The 104-minute running time and forgettable supporting cast notwithstanding, the movie largely succeeds in carrying its realism through the end, thanks to the main onscreen couple.
Premiered at the 62nd Locarno International Film Festival in 2009, it divided critics, who disagreed on the degree of success in mixing fire and ice.
The film often teeters towards melodrama, probably in an effort to stay true to Pruefer’s personal recount. Buck’s approach to the story is at times puzzling and even downright painful to watch due to strange, unlikely conversations.
The most unnatural line comes in the opening, where the leads are already an item. Over video chatting, Sreykeo (Sakuljaroensuk) confesses her HIV-positive status to Benjamin (Kross) and turns off the camera, saying, “See you in the next life,” without the faintest trace of sadness. She even sounds bubbly. How is this possible for a reaction to (what she mistakes at the time as) a death penalty?
She continues to sell herself for around $30 a time while her starry-eyed boyfriend desperately looks for a way to secure her medication, flying back and forth between the northern German city of Hamburg and Phnom Penh and sending her money.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world does not seem to mind too much, almost indifferent to the young lovers’ plight. The supporting cast members, including his and her families, conveniently appear to provide narrative turns and necessary intrigue — and then disappear into oblivion. Objections from the voice of reason, Benjamin’s brother Henry (Jens Harzer), never sound substantial enough, although this is a life-altering ordeal for the younger one.
The real input comes only when Henry suggests retelling the story in writing, towards the end, and the result obviously became a book and now a movie.
It is difficult to trust such a subjective fantasy but thanks to the objective camerawork and solid lead performances, “Same Same But Different” becomes a touching tribute to love.
Billed as “Srolan My Love” in Korean. In theaters Feb 9. 104 minutes. 15 and over. Distributed by ATNINE FILM.