A Teddy Bear That Doesn’t Get It
Read synopsis and watch trailer. A nice Saturday morning tradition:
38-year-old bodybuilder Dennis would really like to find true love. He has never had a girlfriend and lives alone with his mother in a suburb of Copenhagen. When his uncle marries a girl from Thailand, Dennis decides to try his own luck on a trip to Pattaya, as it seems love is easier to find in Thailand. He knows that his mother would never accept another woman in his life, so he lies and tells her that he is going to Germany. Dennis has never been out traveling before and the hectic Pattaya is a huge cultural shock for him. The intrusive Thai girls give big bruises to Dennis’ naive picture of what love should be like, and he is about to lose hope when he unexpectedly meets the Thai woman of his dreams.
Read synopsis and watch trailer for Teddy Bear and I now want to throw up a little in my mouth. I admit I haven’t seen the whole movie so I will proceed with caution and without full judgment; the movie could still redeem itself! But at the very least let me criticize whoever is responsible for promoting the film and capitalizing on some basic stereotypical ignorance; if I should judge solely based on the synopsis and trailer, the prognosis is bad.
Now the film is foreign (Danish to be exact) and like any other film it may rely on unassociated advertising agencies to promote its film overseas. So you can have a great film with awful publicity (think of whoever designed the awful DVD cover of Slumdog Millionaire) or an awful film with an Oscar-winning trailer (re: Daybreakers trailer). Therefore when any of us get up in arms against anything in the media for ignorance, we must be first very careful in separating the actual content from its advertising. Both can be two distinct entities, and you might find yourself with your foot in your mouth if you go with an “all of the above” approach (And such is what I am attempting to prevent here, if you haven’t figured it out yet).
With that said, this is what I specifically got from solely the synopsis and trailer: that we should watch this film because it dares to humanize the stomach churning belief that “if you’re white and Western women intimidate you, why duh, move to Asia.” After all, according to the synopsis, “it seems love is easier to find in Thailand.” Not only does this objectify women by conveniently placing them into convenient Western vs. Eastern categories (…why does it have to be the “*Thai* woman of his dreams.”?!), but it also wants to make money by fulfilling the testosterone-fueled fantasy that despite perceived personal shortcomings, a man from the West can find an Asian woman based on his ethnic/cultural superiority (a.k.a. West is Best!).
But with that said, the film could still go in many ways – it can go the disappointing way of what I mentioned above: a simple story of a Western man who can’t find love at home so he heads towards Asia where supposedly the women are ‘easier.’ Cue happy ending (no pun intended).
Or more hopefully, the film can exceed expectations by being a realistic depiction of sex tourism and a criticism of the existing, cancerous mindset among Western men in Thailand. Perhaps this film can even redeem itself by questioning whether “Teddy Bear” really discovers a kind of true love that transcends overly simplified cultural and ethnic differences.
But before I get too hopeful, let’s look at the reviews. This is from the New York Times…
[The film director] navigates the Pattaya bar scene with an equally welcome absence of defensiveness or condemnation.
(aka the film doesn’t take a stand and shows “it is what it is.” …Cowardly? Or nonjudgmental?)
After scanning the mismatched pairs of older Western men and young Thai women, [the main character] Dennis decides that the scene isn’t for him, a choice that leads him toward a friendly civilian, Toi (Lamaiporn Sangmanee Hougaard), who owns a local bodybuilding gym where Dennis finds camaraderie, and the movie enters a nice and easy sweet groove.
…and so I remain cautiously pessimistic.
Again, I’m not criticizing the actual film; I can’t judge anything until I see it for myself. I’m instead criticizing how this film is being marketed, which reaches out to millions of Americans like myself who regularly surf the trailers posted on Apple.com (and among many other sites). So let me point out the ignorance of the American advertising agency responsible for promoting this film; you could’ve done a better job.