New rom-com The Con-Heartist comes courtesy of director Mez Tharatorn, a filmmaker who made a name for himself in his native Thailand with 2012’s blockbuster ATM: Er Rak Error. While he has yet to parlay that homegrown acclaim into larger international success, that might change with his latest venture, a candy-colored, high-concept flick that has all the markings of a crowd-pleaser. The director has a suitably endearing and painfully modern/relatable protagonist in Ina (Pimchanok Leuwisetpaiboon), a twenty-something college grad drowning in debt whose five-year plan for financial recovery hits a potential snag when she encounters low-level con-artist Tower (Nadech Kugimiya). Smart enough to see through his initial ruse, Ina blackmails Tower into helping her get revenge on a former lover, Petch (Thiti Mahayotaruk), a duplicitous dirtbag who dumped her a year before and absconded with a small fortune, leaving Ina in her current financial predicament. With two other cohorts in tow — money-strapped school teacher Ms. Nongnuch (Kathaleeya McIntosh) and “human ghost” Jone (Pongsatorn Jongwilak) — Ina and Tower plot an elaborate con that will naturally spin out of control, with all of the requisite double- and triple-crosses that are hallmarks of this particular genre. In the process, the two may just fall in love…that is, if anyone is to be trusted.
The Con-Heartist, in tenor, is closer to a big Bollywood flick than your average Hollywood studio fare; from the whooshing camera movements to the overexaggerated sound effects to the hyperactive editing and absolutely bonkers musical cues, it plays like a live-action cartoon where “realism” is a complete afterthought. Given such bombast, it’s easy to imagine some viewers being turned off by the outre theatrics, but the tone is consistent throughout, lending an infectious spirit to the proceedings that is fairly irresistible, thanks in no small part to the pair of likeable leads in Leuwisetpaiboon and Kugimiya. The latter, for his part, might be readily known outside of Thailand, but on the strength of his charismatic performance here, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn he is one of his country’s biggest stars. Leuwisetpaiboon, meanwhile, smartly commits to keeping her character just off-center enough to prove compelling.
Almost perversely, however, despite billing itself as a romantic comedy, the relationship between the pair is barely developed, making the requisite happy ending ring more than a little hollow. For both better and worse, The Con-Heartist is far more concerned with its con game trappings and a series of over-the-top digressions — including a lisping hotel manager who sprays spectators with an abundance of CGI spit — and while its narrative maneuvers are clever enough to keep things engrossing, they’re not entirely surprising. Tharatorn and co. at least deserve credit for an epilogue that actually uses the COVID pandemic in an organic and amusing way, a true rarity in post-2020 cinema. The Con-Heartist isn’t ultimately much more than broad entertainment, pure escapist play, but taken on those terms, it should be considered remarkably successful. In other words, it seems not unlikely that there will be an American remake of this within the next five years; it will star Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds, retain its cornball title, and make a small fortune. That prediction fairly suggests all possible praise and criticism of The Con-Heartist.
Published as part of NYAFF 2021 — Dispatch 4.