The Long Walk, no relation to the Stephen King novel, is the first Laotian film I’ve seen, and one of only a few to be released outside of Laos and an even smaller number to get distribution beyond Southeast Asia. That alone was enough to get me to watch it, the fact it’s director Mattie Do not only was the country’s only female director but the director of two of those films, Chanthaly and Dearest Sister, just made me more curious.
Sometime in the near future, a nameless old man (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy, River) finds a motor scooter discarded in the undergrowth. He cuts it free and pushes it along hoping to sell it for parts or scrap metal. As he does the camera reveals a skull lying in the dirt. It’s an ominous start to a strange and complicated film.
In the present a young boy (Por Silatsa) lives with his abusive father (Vithaya Sombath) and a mother (Chanthamone Inoudome, Dearest Sister) who is dying of a lung disease. Watching her slow, painful death leaves him deeply scarred.
The Long Walk moves back and forth between these two characters, although due to the low key, to match the film’s low budget, ways Do depicts the future at first I found it hard to tell that they’re not happening at the same time. It’s not until about twenty minutes in, when we see the that boy and the man are the same person at opposite ends of his life that it becomes clear.
The Long Walk takes its title from his relationship to the film’s other main character, a silent but friendly ghost (Noutnapha Soydara) that has accompanied him since he was a boy. She has the ability to allow his older self to travel back in time and he contemplates doing so to talk to his younger self and spare his mother her suffering.
There is a lot packed into The Long Walk’s long running time of an hour and fifty five minutes. The core is the story of the nameless protagonist, the effects of his mother’s illness on his life and the decisions he makes, especially some questionable ones involving other people’s suffering. Sorrow, guilt and having to live with those emotions is also a large part of the film.
But Do and her regular writer Christopher Larsen also touch on technology and modernization. More specifically how little they do for those who need them most. What good is an implanted chip that handles your finances if you’re still left scavenging to survive? Or supersonic aircraft when so many people can’t afford a bicycle let alone a car? Does anything change for the rural poor, be it fifty years from now in Laos or here and now in Appalachia for that matter?
The film’s length combined with its slow pace and rather involved plot will probably put some viewers off. The Long Walk isn’t an easy watch either, it’s a film that requires a lot of attention and dealing with some grim and unpleasant truths. It’s also one that’s best gone into not knowing a lot about what to expect, the gradual revelation of what’s going on is a large part of what makes it work.
Effective if not entirely successful due to occasional pacing and plotting issues The Long Walk is worth catching if it sounds like your kind of movie. I must admit though, I’m curious to see what happens when Laos decides to follow neighboring Vietnam and Cambodia and produce more mainstream films like The Prey and The Guardian.
With its limited theatrical release on February 18th The Long Walk became the first Laotian film to play in American theaters. It comes to VOD and Digital platforms on March 1st. You can check the film’s website and Facebook page for details.