With Thai cinema so often dominated by cheesy, sentimental love stories, Shambhala promised to deliver something refreshingly different.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t, and despite its high altitude setting and enormous potential, it instead falls back on the same old tired cliches in a bid to appease a wider audience.
The film is the debut feature from Panjapong Kongkanoi, a veteran director of several Thai TV series, and after three years of delays and post-production work, it’s finally on the big screen.
Unfortunately, Panjapong’s TV experience is what really shines through – Shambhala feels like a long, drawn out television mini-series, lacking in both scale and adequate direction, and with a paper-thin plot that doesn’t warrant its nearly two-hour run time.
The film focuses on two estranged brothers who take a road trip to Tibet, each motivated by their own personal conflicts and jaded past.
The younger brother, Wut (Sunny Suwanmethanon), is looking for a mythical place called Shambhala with the belief that it will help cure his dying girlfriend, Nam (Nalinthip Phermphatsakul). His older brother, Tin (Ananda Everingham), has a painful past and assuages his soul through heavy drinking, while conveniently providing plenty of comic relief (to mixed effect).
The creators are obviously striving for emotional depth and attempting to explore issues of personal loss and redemption, yet fail by trying to combine too many superficial elements in a bid to make it more accessible, and delivering an unrefined script that contains awkward dialogue and stilted plot progression.
Director Panjapong has said he originally devised the film as a more intense spiritual drama, devoid of the pointless love threads that attempt to stitch the finished film together. It’s a shame that his original vision wasn’t realised, because when he focuses on the more serious spiritual elements is when Shambhala really shines, even if that is all too briefly.
The performances from the two leads also leave a lot to be desired, falling comfortably into the mediocre category, not helped by the underdeveloped script. Even the ever-likeable Ananda grossly overplays his character to the point of caricature, making his arc, and particularly the closing scenes, feel forced and difficult to believe.
Indeed, the only true star of the show is Tibet itself. The gorgeous landscapes and stunning mountain vistas provide the only stimulation in an otherwise dull and superficial film.
Still, there are the odd moments when the characters really come to life, particularly towards the film’s climax, offering a glimpse at what could have been with a reconditioned script and tighter direction.
Unfortunately, in trying to please everybody with a dumbed-down story, the filmmakers have failed to deliver their own Shambhala.