November 19, 2023
Once Upon a Star (2023)
Grade: 63/100

Director: Nonzee Nimibutr
Stars: Sukollawat Kanarot, Jirayu La-ongmanee, Nuengthida Sophon

What it's about. Set in Thailand in 1970. At that time, Thailand was primarily a rural country with many small villages separated by narrow roads through dense forests. Most villagers could not travel to a city like Bangkok to see films, so travelling troupes brought films to the villagers, generally 1960s Thai movies starring Mitr Chaibancha, the most famous Thai actor of the era.

The films mostly consisted of silent Super 8 reels. The troupe would project the films on a portable screen, and dub the actors live during the screening. The most successful and highly regarded troupe was Kampanat, but our troupe is smaller and less well funded. They journey from village to village in a timeworn bus, owned and driven by fifty-ish Man (Samart Payukaroon). The voice actors are forty-ish Manit (Sukollawat Kanarot) and twenty-five-ish Kao (Jirayu La-ongmanee). They report to Wichian (Sonny Chatwiriyachai), who is predictably grouchy and uncompromising.

The troupe could really use a female voice actor, so they hire Kae (Nuengthida Sophon), a conventionally attractive brunette who worked for Kampanat before her break-up with its arrogant lead voice actor Sak (Nat Sakdatorn).

Both Manit and Kao soon nurse a crush on Kae, who keeps her independence but favors Manit. Kae plans to save up some money and depart the troupe to train as a secretary.

How others will see it. Once Upon a Star was rescued from complete obscurity by Netflix, who took notice of it and snapped up the worldwide streaming rights. Nonetheless, the Thai-language film has made barely a ripple relative to the ocean of English language rom-coms.

Today at, it has a scant 320 user votes, half of which are Thai. The lead actors are well-known in Thailand. Thai viewers grant the film a highly respectable 7.4 user rating, while Americans grade it less generously as 6.5. There are no user reviews. There are a surprising number of external reviews, who generally see the film as a mixed bag. Some see it as predictable, or note the tired use of a love triangle plot devices. Others observe that the story might not appeal to western viewers unfamiliar with the cultural tradition of live voice dubbing of films in Thailand.

How I felt about it. The film's appeal is dependent on the comely presence of the plucky and attractive Nuengthida Sophon. The love triangle is more of interest to the two men than the woman, since Kae sees Kao as immature, and she is too ambitious to settle for Manit.

Manit's health problems come and go, and are a timely plot device to bring about a reconciliation between love rivals Manit and Kao and their affronted target Kae. Other familiar plot devices involve the inflexible boss who will shut down the troupe unless they become more profitable, and the troupe rivalry with Kampanat, who are bested in a showdown by the inspired underdog.

Indeed, the first half of the film is better than the second half, which limps to a close with an overlong 2:17 running time. A happy ending of Manit and Kae doing voice work together in a theater is probable only to the extent that it is intended to please viewers, who wish the two to resume working together.