Invisible Waves

2006 / 115m - Thailand
Crime, Drama
Invisible Waves poster

Following the success of Last Life in the Universe, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang released his arthouse/crime blend Invisible Waves, a film that reiterates some of the successful choices of his previous film while venturing into an entirely new direction. I feel Invisible Waves is actually the more accomplished film of the two, public opinion was less enthusiastic and Ratanaruang slipped back into international anonymity after releasing this film. A real shame if you ask me.

screen capture of Invisible Waves

Ratanaruang made some bold choices when he started work on Invisible Waves. He kept the international cast, the pacing, and the tone of Last Life in the Universe, but he switched the genre from romance to crime. A lot harder to sell to arthouse audiences and nearly impossible to sell to hardcore genre fanatics. On top of that the pacing made sure that mainstream audiences would feel ill at ease while watching Invisible Waves. The result is a unique experiment that completely failed to find an appreciative audience.

Admittedly, it does take a little while to get into the film. Even though Last Life in the Universe had some minor crime influences, the romance was the absolute center of the film and the combination of romance and slow pace is a much more familiar one for fans of Asian cinema. Invisible Waves really puts the focus on its crime story and especially at the start of the film there isn't that much to tell. We follow Kyoji as he is sent to Thailand after killing a woman, but that's about it. Kyoji's boss sets him on a boat, but the journey is quite uneventful.

Kyoji does meet up with some peculiar characters on his little trip, but as far as tension and story arcs are concerned nothing major is happening to pull the audience into the film. Only when Kyoji arrives in Thailand does the intrigue pick up and is the audience allowed to be entertained by the story. A very risky choice that is sure to deter a lot of people, then again it's nice to see directors take such bold risks instead of trying to cater to the general opinion.

screen capture of Invisible Waves

For the visuals, Ratanaruang once again relied on the skills of the much-loved cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Doyle also shot Last Life in the Universe and he has clearly grown in his collaboration with Ratanaruang. The styling and camera work are top-notch, especially the use of color is nothing less than spectacular. The film bathes in muted greens and blues, appearing very dark and murky. Perfectly in line with Ratanaruang's overarching vision.

Once again it's the soundtrack that deserves the most credit though. It is almost entirely composed of very subtle ambient, ever-present, and highly influential to the overall atmosphere. It pops up everywhere. Halfway through the vibe becomes very familiar and by the end of the film, it feels as if the entire film was carried by the music. It's the way a soundtrack is supposed to be and Ratanaruang earned a lot of my respect for realizing this.

The acting is pretty stellar too, with Tadanobu Asano starring in the lead. I don't think there is anyone more suited to play the part of Kyoji, though you could also argue that Asano actually sculpted Kyoji's character. He's a rather silent, somewhat asocial but fair and agreeable guy who is guided by the people and events that he finds on his way. Secondary roles are also impeccable with a nice little cameo of Eric Tsang to boot.

screen capture of Invisible Waves

The first half of Invisible Waves is extremely slow, subtle, and muted. Not at all what you'd expect from a crime flick. During the second part, the story gains momentum and you slowly start to connect the dots while the story fleshes itself out. By then most people will surely have lost interest in the film, but for those who appreciate Ratanaruang's peculiar mix of genre and arthouse Invisible Waves is really one of a kind and a worthwhile investment.

Compared to LLitU just about everything is more polished. The visuals look tastier, the soundtrack is even more profoundly present and the acting is just about perfect. The only thing that's challenging is the combination of the genre and the pacing and it is sure to put people off. If you like a good challenge though, be sure to try out Invisible Waves as it's one of Thailand's many hidden pearls and my favorite Ratanaruang.