Nontawat Numbenchapol explores themes of illegal immigration, prostitution, and human rights through his first feature film, Doi Boy. A documentary veteran, Numbenchapol centers the film around three men—a Shan sex worker living in Chiang Mai, a policeman, and a human rights activist. After living a life of abstinence as a monk, Wan was forced to join the army as a result of the conflict in Shan State. All his life, someone else made decisions for him—be it his guardian or the state—and so one day, he came to the conclusion that it was time he needed to do something that he wanted as an individual. Thus, Wan started living the life of his choice, but it was not what he had dreamed of.
Why did Wan Start Working In The Club?
Wan wanted to live in Thailand, and after deserting his position in Myanmar, he ended up in Chiang Mai, the most popular city in northern Thailand. Without any documents to his name, Wan ended up working as a gay sex worker. He was an illegal immigrant, and it was impossible to find decent-paying jobs. Working at Doi Boy was his only way to save enough to get himself a passport. The owner of the club changed his name from Wan to Sorn, and that was how his new life began. Wan fell in love with Bee, and maybe because their jobs were quite similar, they had nothing to hide. Every night after work, Wan waited on his bike for Bee, and the two went home together. Their tiny apartment was far from perfect, but it was their place of love and solace. Throughout Doi Boy film, Wan’s sexuality is not explicitly stated, but his relationship with Bee suggests that he is not gay.
Sorn and his friend, Korn, approached a woman, Nan, who agreed to arrange passports for them if they could pay her up. Sorn (Wan) chose to deposit the money he had saved for rent to get the passport, but COVID-19 hampered his plan. He neither had the passport in hand nor any money to pay the rent. Wan discussed his situation with his regular customer, who happened to be a policeman.
What did Ji want from Wan?
Ji was responsible for the murder of a human rights activist, Bhoom, and he was once again blackmailed to carry out a similar job. The rise in the number of missing individuals resulted in activists questioning the government and demanding immediate action against human trafficking. To counter the rising protests, policemen such as Ji were asked to take down the activists at night. The trauma of killing a man continued to haunt Ji, and he was not ready to take another life. Ji was Wan’s regular customer, and he knew that Wan used to live in Myanmar. He requested that Wan help him cross the border and take him to his hometown, but Wan was not ready to do so. He was afraid that he would never be able to return to Thailand, and he was not willing to take the risk.
After the club was shut down, Wan had to take up odd jobs, and he was arrested by the police for not having any documents on him. Ji was at the police station, and he took over the case. He already had Wan’s passport in his hand, and he was ready to hand it over if Wan agreed to help him. He did not have much of a choice and was, in a way, forced to help Ji. Ji’s next target was Wuth, a human rights activist speaking out against enforced disappearances. Wuth and Bhoom were lovers with similar interests, and after the disappearance of his partner, Wuth started to speak out against human trafficking all the more. He believed the fight was impossible to stop; even if he were killed, there would be someone else fighting for justice. After confronting Wuth, Ji forced him into his car and started to drive towards the border. At a checkpoint, when Ji got out of the car, Wuth and Wan tried to flee, but they were immediately caught. They managed to enter the jungles of Myanmar, but they soon encountered the Myanmar army. Wan’s only friend in the army, Yoon, later helped release them in secret.
What happened to Wuth, Wan, and Ji?
Wuth was taken to the monastery Wan lived in. He shaved his hair and was ready to begin his life anew, but his heart ached, knowing he could not return to his homeland. His history was erased, and he was just another face at the monastery. Wuth’s desire to fight for the rights of his people and bring justice to his partner remained unfulfilled, but the movement was impossible to stop, just like he had predicted. Every day, more and more people protested against enforced disappearances.
Wuth handed over the passport that Ji had left for Wan. After leaving Myanmar, Wan had forgotten the feeling of belonging to a place, and the passport made him feel closer to the idea of a home. Wan escaped to Thailand to live his life on his terms, but the dream was lost somewhere in between. Ji returned home to his wife, and strangely enough, he went missing within a few minutes.
Doi Boy‘s ending suggests that Ji was kidnapped and murdered for not carrying out the order. He wanted to get away from the job, but it was impossible to do so. He was aware that he was risking his life by protecting Wuth, but he could not bear living with the haunting memories of murdering another man. He perhaps believed that as long as he took care of the radical element, he would not have to face consequences, but he could not be more wrong. Ji’s body was tied with barbed wire, and he was drowned to death. He joined the missing persons list, and his wife and unborn child will never find out the truth. Meanwhile, Bee agreed to offer private service to her loyal customer. She needed money to keep afloat, and Wan was nowhere around. This was not the life Bee wanted, but she had realized a long time ago that one could not survive without money. In the end, Bee watched people take to the streets to protest against the rise in disappearance cases, and maybe deep down, she wondered if Wan had also become a victim of human trafficking. She, too, was risking her life by trusting strangers to fulfill her needs, but that was the life she was forced to choose.
Doi Boy ends with Wan returning to Thailand, and even though he has his passport now, we do not know how secure his future is. Maybe once again, life would be far from the dreams he had, and perhaps he would try to find some sense of happiness amidst the uncertainties. The film captures male camaraderie quite well, and the intermingling of the three characters coming from diverse backgrounds and beliefs makes it even more intriguing. Empathetic touches and embraces devoid of any eroticism bring out a particular humane quality. It is not love, lust, or friendship but simply acknowledging the struggle of another sentient being.