Sway (France/Thailand/USA, 2014)

Globalism has brought with itself people who switch countries and feel at the same time home everywhere but also somewhat unrooted. Your home is where you happen to lay your suitcase, and family becomes the very narrow set of relationships that you happen to have at this place. This is what Rooth Tang’s omnibus film is about. It has three stories of people, who are somewhere in-between countries and relationships. Surely there are people who can relate to those experiences. The stories are set in Los Angeles, Paris and Bangkok.

Arriving in Paris, a Hong Kong-born young man named Arthur (Matt Chung-tien Wu) tries to contact everyone he knows in France, including his mother, who is upset about his father wanting to move back to Hong Kong without bothering to ask her. Arthur’s French visa will expire soon, so he tries to convince his girlfriend to move to Asia with him. In Bangkok, the well-traveled Palm (Ananda Everingham) sets into a relationship with June (Sajee Apiwong), who has never left Thailand. He would like to move to the U.S., but she hesitates, until they seem to be on an inevitably shared future path. In Los Angeles, an American woman named Amanda (Kris Wood-Bell) tries to settle into marriage to Japanese businessman Eric (Kazohiko Nishimura) and her new role as a stepmother to a daughter his previous marriage. The daughter, Grace (Miki Ishikawa), seems to hate her new stepmother, and as a result, Amanda finds herself feeling like an outsider in her own home.

As the film cuts between these three stories, the viewer starts to wonder if there is some relationship between them. Maybe the characters’ paths converge or there is a connection somewhere. Soon, however, it becomes clear that this might be impossible, as the stories also take place during different years. The timeframe in each story is established through famous news events, as seen in the media by the protagonists, such as Barack Obama getting elected for the first time and the 2008 airport demonstrations over political corruption in Bangkok. So why present them this way when they might work better as separate episodes?

Rootlessness being the price that one has to pay for being a globetrotter becomes the main theme of Sway. The film conveys this message clearly enough, but at some point the viewer would like to get some reflections on society (as we see it in the television news) or just a look at the characters outside of their romantic/sexual relationships. Perhaps being on the move so much has made them somewhat flat and one-sided individuals?

Tang has clearly watched his share of Wong Kar-wai films, as the cinematography by Vasco Lucas Nunes and Lyn Moncrief comes close to that of his regular collaborator, Cristopher Doyle, in many scenes, with alienating big city blueish tones being the major visual image and extreme close-ups with blurred backgrounds accentuated. Transition shots of night skies, empty streets, darkly lit apartments, and the maze of Bangkok add to the visual appeal of the film. Furthermore, the actors are pleasurable to look, although the limited plot lines, repetitive scenes, and eternally melancholic mood do not give them enough opportunities to show their skills. There is, for example, absolutely no humor in the film. What also detracts from the experience is the cheesy mood muzak, which is used to underline every scene. Some diegetic songs, specific to the three places, might have added some much-needed life to these stories.

Sway is available on VOD from Cheng Cheng Films.