Pong is a Thai college student living at home with his family. James is a young American hedge fund manager in Bangkok on business. The two of them embrace the city and each other, but their intense connection brings hopes and fears to the surface that threaten heartbreak for them both.
Play Name was shot entirely on location in Bangkok, with cast and crew from the U.S., Thailand and Singapore. Its dynamic soundtrack includes songs by Rufus Wainwright, Yoko Ono and Thai sensation Pee Saderd, and features music by Ben Allison, one of America’s foremost jazz artists.
Director Dave Snyder’s first film, yeah no definitely, starred Vincent Piazza (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire), and screened at Outfest (where it was named one of the 15 best shorts by indieWIRE), Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films, Verzaubert and many others.
Play Name’s producer is Anocha Suwichakornpong, a noted director whose film Graceland screened at Sundance and was the first official short film selection from Thailand to the Cannes Film Festival.
The hopes and fears of two young men, a Thai college student and an American hedge fund manager, are exposed during a steamy night in Bangkok.
18-year old Pong (Vin Kridakorn) is living at home with his parents in a run-down section of the city. Despite his spartan surroundings, he tries to luxuriate in a bubble bath while listening to Rufus Wainwright on his MP3 player. With his toenails painted pink, Pong’s entire operation is an attempt to embrace a Western gay ideal of pampered relaxation.
Unfortunately, most Thais take showers, not baths, so he’s using his mother’s washbasin as a makeshift tub. Pong’s undertaking is further discombobulated by his younger brother, who needs to pee. They get into a fight that ends up bringing Pong’s entire family in the bathroom to berate him.
At a bar later that night, Pong and two friends see James (Tom Macy), a young American man, across the room. They debate his sexuality but, when Pong approaches and James agrees to join them, it seems clear he’s indeed gay like themselves, despite his mostly straight demeanor.
They go to a packed gay club with ripped go-go boys and uproarious kathoey (lady boy) cabaret acts. On the balcony outside, they get to know each other. James is suppressing an unspoken despair, and Pong’s tenderness is awakened by this secret sorrow in a man who seems to have everything.
All Thais have two first names: one is their regular birth name (used for formal occasions), and the other is their play name (used in most other circumstances). But Pong has rejected his play name and, when he reveals it to James, it’s as embarrassing as could be, causing them both to explode with laughter. This revelation brings the two of them together, physically and emotionally. But the closer they become, the more misgivings James feels. James is the more masculine of the two, but does masculinity equal strength when a man is too weak to listen to his own heart?
Play Name is about dualities: East and West, feminine and masculine, cowardice and courage. It’s about the identity foisted on us and the one we choose, if we have the strength to make the choice.
With Play Name I wanted to make a film that was simple on the surface, yet complicated underneath. Many dichotomies – masculine and feminine, courage and cowardice, East and West, self-expression and self-suppression – are explored.
Of the two main characters, Pong is the more feminine, in that he wears nail polish and makeup and bright clothes, while James works on Wall Street and is able to play down his sexual orientation so he doesn't upset the macho culture there.
Pong may be less "manly", but he's more courageous. He's rejected the play name chosen for him by his parents, and that's indicative of his mindset. For Pong, toning down who he is just isn't an option. He will be himself, no matter the price. And when he meets James, he wears his heart on his sleeve, despite the risk of being hurt.
James is someone who has probably spent most of his life trying to be what other people want him to be. He follows a path laid out for him and, even though it makes him unhappy, is frightened of straying from it. He is a man chased by internal demons that are beyond his comprehension. When he meets Pong, the prospect of genuine connection terrifies him.
What's interesting is that although Pong lives in a country without the possibility of gay marriage, where gay parents can't adopt children, and where there are no civil unions, it is James, from a nation that has given him many more opportunities under the law, who is scared to love another man.
Is it because he's uncomfortable being gay? Does he have other issues that make him run away? The question is unresolved, but this fear of love is certainly not unique to gay men, and I believe this theme will resonate with both sexes and gay and straight audiences alike.
Finally, the film can be read as a metaphor for how the United States has often dealt with nations in Asia: first showing them what appears to be genuine support and partnership, but then abandoning them when serious issues come to the fore. This was vividly demonstrated in recent history with the currency crisis that shook Asia in the late 1990s, and earlier by American actions after the Vietnam War.
Play Name is also a deeply personal project, although I wasn't aware of that at first. It wasn't until Vin, an incredible actor, broke down crying while we were shooting the film's final scene, that I understood the movie's true motivation.
Several months before, I had split up with my German boyfriend of five years. I'm no hedge fund manager, and my boyfriend wasn't fond of wearing toenail polish. But the good and bad sides of our relationship were surely the psychological impetus for writing the screenplay. When Vin started to cry, the pain of our break-up came flooding back, and that became clear.
In some strange way, the film is inspired by the joys and sorrows of our time together. I guess it's a lamentation, a way to grieve over everything that went wrong, to try and make sense of it, to hopefully grow from it, to pay tribute to my ex-lover's honesty and strength, to say goodbye to those days and walk with hope into the sunshine of a brighter tomorrow.