How does February deal with the issues of home and the foreign (Thainess and Westerness)?
February, by Yuthlert Sippapak, is the visual site where the ideas of home and the foreign dramatically collide. Despite taking place in New York, February’s story is an entirely Thai one. Through the protagonists, ‘G’ and Kaewta, the viewer is confronted by the drama and danger that unfold as a result of the collision between their Thai national identity and the foreign other.
Space and light
The use of space and light are both central to the way in which February deals with the issues of home and the foreign. Yuthlert leaves no room for doubt about just how dangerous the western world is through his manipulation of claustrophobic spaces, and dark, poorly lit shots.
One of the first shots in New York is of Kaewta in a taxi. Of course she arrives at night, so both Kaewta and the viewer are submerged in darkness from the get-go. As she is driven through the city, Kaewta is present yet physically removed from her surroundings, encased in the taxi and separated by the glass of the window. Not only is she distanced from the city, but she is also cut off from the taxi driver, culturally, linguistically and physically. To add another layer to this spatial representation of disconnection and alienation, Kaewta then becomes trapped as the taxi driver violently closes the dividing window and drives Kaewta away from the city through a dark, claustrophobic tunnel.
Kaewta finds herself in a car once more when, post car crash and subsequent memory loss, ‘G’ drives her around New York in the hope that something will act as a stimulus to prompt a memory. Throughout the scene, she is trapped behind another car window, peering up at the overpowering cityscape. The shot is filmed from Kaewta’s level, emphasising just how small and lost she is amidst this concrete jungle. The claustrophobic city also represents western oppression and its suffocating norms. Yuthlert plays with the city’s lack of space and the subsequent sense of oppression using jump shots. The jump shots reiterate a sense of alienation, displacement and isolation.
What is home?
Februaryis constantly asking questions, questions which point the viewer away from the foreign, and towards home: Thailand. The central questions posed by the film are ‘what is home?’ ‘where is home?’ and ‘what is it to be home?’ The semblance of a home that ‘G’ and Kaewta create together answers this question for the viewer; their home is built upon their Thainess. ‘G’ and Kaewta ultimately find each other, themselves and their home through their Thai identity. To be Thai is to be home.
When Kaewta first arrives at ‘G’s’ apartment, it is not a home. As ‘G’ and Kaewta’s relationship develops, so too does their home. The gradual construction and development of this safe space demonstrates that two Thai people together, sharing their Thai identity, can utilise their Thainess to fight against the foreign, and build some kind of a home together – one that includes milk and alphabet snacks, paintings, brighter lighting and snowball fights.
Whilst ‘G’ and Kaewta have a temporary home, both are lost and looking for a way to Thailand, their true home. ‘G’ wants to go home but the Chinese gangsters that he works for have confiscated his passport. When he finally buys plane tickets to Thailand, he says, “these aren’t just plane tickets. These are plane tickets to Thailand.” Thailand is the mothership and New York is an impure melting pot of peoples with no fixed identity and questionable morals. Kaewta is also searching for herself and for her home – New York stole her memories, but through Thai tenets, such as language and a Thai companion, she is coming back to herself. There is also the homeless man, a metaphor for dislocation, whose place is ultimately taken by ‘G’. The presence of the homeless man is a constant reminder of the fear of becoming displaced and homeless if you live outside of Thailand.
The questions “where am I?” and “who am I?” are also central to February. The two questions become interchangeable and the viewer soon understands that where you are affects your sense of self, and subsequently who you are. ‘G’ is a good man but New York life has forced him into its underbelly of illegality and forced him to do bad things.
In February, there is no fixed identity apart from Thai identity – a comment on the superiority of Thainess within the larger, global society. Nearly all of the characters we meet are migrants (taxi drivers, Chinese gangsters), and the few Americans that we do meet have names that suggest a foreign heritage. For example, the art dealer has a foreign surname, reiterating how transient and confused the foreign other is.
Whilst the characters of ‘G’ and Kaewta are, to a certain extent, well acted, most of the actors who play ‘Western’ characters do a rather appalling job. This poor level of acting can be interpreted as another comment on Thai superiority in the face of Western inadequacy: the talent of Thai actors compared to the lack of western talent.
Language is integral to February. Upon hearing ‘G’ speak Thai, the realisation that Kaewta can understand him resuscitates the possibility of belonging and opens the door to their destiny. It also demonstrates that even though Kaewta lost her memories, she never lost her Thainess.
Thai language is the first thing that Kaewta connects with and which helps her to connect with ‘G’. The romance they share is not just between themselves, but the romance of a shared language and identity. Language is the connection that ultimately saves her, it can therefore be understood that Kaewta’s Thainess saved her in a hostile, foreign environment; in this case it is New York.
Ultimately, February sets up the concept of Thainess in direction opposition to Westerness. New York becomes the antithesis to Thailand, and through the use of spaces and lighting, Yuthlert stresses this dichotomy.