The Good Woman of Bangkok | Chicago Reader

The Good Woman of Bangkok

A more apt title might be The Good Man of Brisbane. It seems that 43-year-old Australian filmmaker Dennis O'Rourke was hurting so bad when his long-term marriage ended that he went to Thailand with the express purpose of hiring a prostitute, making a documentary about her, and “falling in love” with her—not necessarily in that order. Setting a new low in both exploitation and self-deception, his film constantly uses the alibi that it's honest about what it's doing. Then why does O'Rourke film the prostitute, her mother and aunt, and many obnoxious male tourists and strip joints at great length—and keep himself out of frame entirely? We learn a bit, none of it surprising, about the prostitute's unhappy life, despair, and hatred of men, but thanks to some Mozart arias, printed titles, and O'Rourke's offscreen voice expressing concern for her, we learn even more about the filmmaker's bleeding heart and unavailing generosity—the film's true subject. There's a school of thought—let's call it a primary school—that believes that if you're up-front about paying a prostitute to record her pain on camera you're making a profound social/aesthetic statement. That school's students should have a ball with this atrocity (1991).

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