Pros: Personal, engaging story.
Cons: Short, fails to deliver on premise in film's title.
The most effective way to present a viewpoint is to put a face to it. If a politician is trying to sell a health care bill, the wheel out a sweet old lady in a wheel chair or put a child in front of the cameras. It is an effective strategy for personalizing an issue. In making Bangkok Girl, film-maker Jordan Clark presents his observations of the Thailand sex industry through a young lady named Pla.
Pla is barely of legal age (in a place other than Thailand). She presents herself as a bartender at a local club called Checkpoint Charlies. While she claims that she only tends bar, we eventually learn that the lure of Falang (stranger) money is hard to resist...especially when your mother needs medicine for her thyroid disease.
Pla takes Jordan Clark on a tour of Thailand, determined to show him the positive aspects of her home. However, it seems that their journey always comes back to foreigners and Pla's own troubled past. Pla explains how she learned English working in the bar (and her English is actually very good). She talks about her childhood and the loss of several fingers at the hands of an evil step-mother. It is a compelling story that seems to simply be more about Pla than the sex industry.
I enjoyed the story that Jordan Clark told. Especially the tragic ending. However, I was a bit disappointed. While Clark interspersed a couple of facts and figures about the sex industry, that aspect of the film was very thin. He talks about the amount of money the industry generates, the police corruption and the foreigners who drive the trade. He even includes an odd interview with a drunk foreigner who sort of summarizes the attraction of Thailand as a man's playground. However, I never felt like the exploitative nature of the industry was fully explored.
While I enjoyed Pla as the cornerstone of this English language film, the film lacks substance. It falls short of an hour in length, which is barely more than a short. The film is sub-titled "A Documentary About Thailand's Night Life." The title led me to believe I would learn about Thailand's Night Life. I know as little now as I did before watching this film. Clark completely missed that entire opportunity. I don't know why he avoided the core of his subject matter, but he did. For that reason, while touching, this film missed the mark. Clark failed to deliver what his title promised.
Bangkok Girl creates a problem for me regarding recommendation. If I were to base my recommendation on fulfilling the premise of the title, it would not be recommended. However, title aside, I would recommend this film solely on Pla's story. While it wasn't necessarily gripping, it did engage me. It was still very thin and could have been better. Clark undertook a major theme and delivered in a small, but effective way. For that reason, I will settle on a mild recommendation of three stars.