Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Bangkok Hilton

The good lady wife (GLW) and I watched the 1989 Kennedy-Miller mini-series Bangkok Hilton on DVD over the weekend.
Let’s get the initial prejudice out of the way early. Yes, the reason I have a copy of the DVD at home is because it stars Nicole. There. Let’s move on.
Kennedy-Miller were responsible for a number of well made dramas during this period – all telling Australian stories that were well received by local audiences and more than their fair share starring Hugo Weaving. Think Bodyline, Dirtwater Dynasty, Cowra Breakout, The Dismissal. They were also responsible for some landmark Australian films : Mad Max, The Year My Voice Broke, Babe and Dead Calm (out the same year as Bangkok Hilton and also starring Nicole. Yes I do have a copy of it. Yes I do think it [the film] is very good and Yes I do think Nicole is very good in it. Please, let’s move on).
Bangkok Hilton tells the story of a young Australian woman, Kat, who travels to England in search of her father whom she has never met, doesn’t find him but does glean a faint hope that he might be in Bangkok. She meets a sauve international photographer who woos her and they travel back to Australia together via Goa, India, the Indian “gold coast.” Their flight is routed via Bangkok and Kat takes the opportunity to look for her father during the stop over. Once again her attempts are not successful and she lines up to re-board her flight to Australia. It is here that the real drama kicks in as Kat is arrested by the Thai police for possession of 2kg of heroin planted in her case by her photographer “boyfriend” who disappears onto the areoplane with nary a backwards glance. The cad ! Kat is left to face the police alone who are not interested in excuses.
She is held in a notorious Bangkok prison which other Western prisoners have dubbed the ‘Bangkok Hilton’. Kat is charged with drug trafficking and faces the death penalty unless her lawyer can get her acquitted.
Not surprisingly Kat is played by Nicole and her ‘missing’ father is played by Denholm Elliot – by far the standout actor in the whole piece. Hugo Weaving sports a very 80’s buffant hair-do as Kat’s lawyer.
The series is broken up into three 1½ hour episodes and what I found most appealing was that the story did not get bogged down at any stage. For example, when telling Kat’s backstory in the first episode, the decades were skipped matter of factly in order to communicate the emotional highlights effectively but racing us to the emotional impact of the Thai prison.
Naturally to effectively fill in four and a half hours of drama there must be more than one story line and it is the interweaving that makes this a dramatic highlight. While the main story stays with Kat’s quest to find her father and her subsequent incarceration, it is her father’s redemption that is just as powerful. A scene late in the movie is only a little bit cliched and communicates the point effectively as two characters find each other in the dark. One seeking freedom from a bricks and mortar prison while the other seeking escape from an emotional prison locked in the past.
With many of our current news “events” coming from South East Asia concerning Australians involved in one illegal drug activity or another, this mini-series has a modern resonance that adds to this fictional story.
While I’m not as much a “TV” person as I am a “movie” person, Bangkok Hilton is as gripping and appealing a drama as any modern day, ABC, Sunday night production and comes highly recommended. The GLW loved it too !

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