To be or not to be: And maybe find love along the way

Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her

"Only a fool would speculate about the life of a woman," says blind Carol (Cameron Diaz) towards the end of this finely-woven film. Indeed this is a film that shows rather than speculates, as it charts short courses in the love lives of various Los Angeles women.

It’s been a popular style of late: telling almost-independent stories that are connected by a mere single character (think Short Cuts, Magnolias). And it works well here. Although in some ways a film of this style is rarely as satisfying as a solid feature film – they tend to feel more like a series of shorts – the connections here serve to be much more than convenient plot devices and actually reveal further facets of a character’s life. The sum of the whole here is greater than the parts, which is saying something as the parts themselves are wonderfully intimate portraits of ordinary women – each impeccably acted.

There’s the aloof Dr Elaine Keener (Glenn Close) who calls a tarot card reader while playing nurse to a brutally elderly woman. She’d like to know her future; there’s a man at work. "Tall. Pale skin." And he won’t return her calls. There’s 39-year-old bank manager Danielle (Holly Hunter), who’s pregnant to a married man and is questioning their future for the first time. "Maybe you’re the one used to doing the avoiding," she snaps at Walter (Matt Craven), a co-worker she sleeps with during her crisis, when he indicates that he wants to continue their relationship. There’s children’s book writer and single-mum Rose (Kathy Baker), who steals one of the funniest scenes in the film when she gets sprung staring at her new neighbour through his back door as he sleeps. Instead of explaining that she’s brought a gift for him, she simply flees. Their unusual fledgling romance is warm and inspiring. Then there’s Christine (Calista Flockhart) and Lilly (Valeria Gonelo); Lilly is dying, and asks Christine to recount their first meeting.

Finally there’s Kathy (Amy Brenneman) and Carol. Kathy is a detective who has been called to the suicide of a woman she knew a long time ago. This woman is glimpsed on the periphery in various parts of the film, and the motives for her suicide aren’t clear. Carol enjoys speculating about what could have driven her to do it while she prepares for the dates that Kathy never seems to go on.

There’s an underlying sadness and bleakness about the characters; they appear to be almost victims, searching incessantly for the partner who will make their lives complete, or desperately trying not to lose them. But as Rose’s 15-year-old son says, "Everybody’s looking." Including Walter and Rose’s son, who long just as much for partnership – love, even – as any of the women.

Hope is not universal in real life, and neither is it for these characters, who are simply doing the best they can as they slowly transform into the fragile old woman being nursed by Dr Keenan at the beginning of the film – or the prematurely dead woman, who is seen at the end.

Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her is a film that empathises with the people it respectfully portrays. To the credit of first-time director Rodrigo Garcia (who’s the son of novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez) audiences will almost feel as if they are eavesdropping on ordinary lives; and in doing so, may learn something about their own.

A clone is a clone is a clone

The 6th Day

If you have trouble finding one Arnold Schwarzenegger difficult to believe as an actor on screen, you’re going to come to serious grief watching The 6th Day, where audiences are treated to Arnie and Arnie acting together on-screen.

At least that’s an interesting sort of concept, unlike the rest of The 6th Day, set in a futuristic world during "a time sooner than you think". It’s a world where the cloning of pets is perfectly legal – you can save your children the heartbreak of a dead dog and get one remade – but the cloning of humans is still off the agenda, at least according to The Sixth Day law. (On the sixth day God created man et cetera, from Genesis.)

But a Microsoft-like mega-company with a rotten, evil core, is surreptitiously going ahead anyway – and even their managing director, the magnificently powerful Michael Drucker (Tony Goldwyn) is a clone. But clones are persona non grata under the law, so precautions must always be taken to ensure nobody finds out the truth behind Drucker’s uh, origin.

Adam Gibson (Arnold Schwarzenegger), husband, father and adventure helicopter pilot, doesn’t like the idea of cloning and recoils at the thought of cloning his daughter’s pet dog for her when he dies. Yet he agrees to head off to Repet anyway, the store that takes care of your pet’s cloning needs, instead of piloting Drucker up some mountain as he’s been commissioned to do. After blood and visual tests – oops, just the information they’ll need for cloning – he lets his buddy Hank (Michael Rapaport) take Drucker instead.

It’s up on the mountain that an anti-cloning fundamentalist shoots dead Drucker, Hank and various others. But the company guys think that it’s Adam; thus they quickly clone him – it’s a process that only takes a couple of hours – using the information they picked up via the tests. Don’t ask why then Hank’s also cloned – you’re not supposed to think that deeply in this film.

When the real Adam returns home he finds that some other Adam is already there. A couple of thugs, Marshall (Michael Rooker) and Talia (Sarah Wynter), arrive to take care of their mistake, but Adam escapes. (Talia, by the way, looks like she’s escaped from The Matrix.)

"Cool, a car chase," says one of the characters as the cat and mouse game begins. Hardly: there’s nothing cool about any of the chases in this film, and in fact it’s a little disappointing to have advance notice of the fact that even when humans are able to be cloned, people will still be mindlessly chasing each other around in fast cars.

The futuristic world has enough gimmicks to sustain interest for quite a while, with hologram fish tanks in shopping malls, automatically driven cars, groovy streamlined helicopters, virtual girlfriends, self-ordering fridges – but an imaginative setting isn’t enough to drive a whole film that has too many holes in a plot that had potential. Regardless, audiences might find themselves enjoying the ride for the first two-thirds of the movie; it’s well-paced, standard action-flick fare. Whatever your tastes, however, the final third simply drags on for too long to be forgivable. And one of the problems with cloning is also a problem on the big screen: just who is really who anyway?

The 6th Day plays with some interesting ideas, but fails to deliver anything innovative. As a shoot ’em up it’s all been done before. Which is kind of appropriate, really.

Full steam ahead into trouble

The Yards

This restrained film is a quiet study of human nature; of how people make choices they know are right or wrong; and of how sometimes they just get swept up and make choices without quite thinking at all.

The Yards opens with Leo Handler (Mark Wahlberg) on his way home to Queens borough in New York – on a train, where a guard gives him the once over – from doing time for car theft. His long-suffering mother Val (Ellen Burstyn), who raised him alone and now suffers from a weak heart, has organised a welcome home party for him. Leo’s aunt Kitty (Faye Dunaway), cousin Erica (Charlize Theron) and old friends are on hand; but Kitty’s cool towards him and it’s obvious that Erica and he have a history.

Leo’s step-uncle Frank Olchin (James Caan), his aunt’s second husband, is the corrupt boss of a subway repair company. As a favour to Val, he gives Leo an interview for a job, but suggests he heads off for a few years to train as a machinist. Instead, Leo hooks up with his old friend Willie (Joaquin Phoenix), who is now Erica’s boyfriend and is also working for the repair company – paying off the right people in order to land contracts.

A payoff at the yards goes horribly wrong when Willie murders a relcalcitrant bribe-taker and Leo nearly kills a cop. The gang forces Leo to finish off the cop in his hospital bed; foiled by the return of a doctor, Leo makes an escape instead. He’s let down by nearly everyone who’s in a position to him, as they scramble to cover their own backs.

In the meantime, Erica has become engaged to Willie despite her mother’s disapproval, and Val has a turn with her heart.

At times, the script seems to be unsure about what direction to take, hovering between focusing on the members of the family and their relations with each other, and on the chase for Leo. This dual focus continues until the end of the film, with the monumental nature of Leo’s decision at the end of the film – it seems almost an afterthought – being juxtoposed with a family tragedy. But somehow the balance works, with the journey towards the film’s ending being equally as important as its destination.

The film showcases a macho world, where women aren’t breaking any barriers; they’re either mothers or wanting to be, while the men are the ones huddling in dusty backrooms making the deals. This creates a somewhat dated feel that isn’t really shaken off.

The casting, however, is impeccable. Wahlberg’s performance is suitably understated – the darkened car scene before he heads off to kill the cop in hospital shows that he can really act – while Phoenix plays the ambitious but morally corrupt and slowly disintegrating Willie with heart. James Caan’s performance is also of note, playing a man who’s just trying to make a living, but teeters on the edge of the abyss of evil.

Director of photography Harris Savides and cinematographer Gordon Willis have also done a fine job – oddly enough, there are some captivating shots in particular of buildings and their interiors.

This is not an inspiring film, but rather a reassuring and solemn one. Sometimes the good guy pulls through, but it’s rarely a simple victory. The Yards bravely attempts to look at the complexity.

But where’s the magic?

Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas

It’s ironic that a movie conveying the message that Christmas is about more than just buying presents needs to employ so much expensive gadgetry – around US$100 million – to get its point across. While Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas is certainly entertaining in parts, this contradiction is ultimately the film’s downfall.

The well-worn but well-loved original tale was written by Dr Seuss (aka Theodor S Geisel) in 1957. Soon after, it was turned into a 22-minute cartoon classic, and now, after more than three decades, it’s been expanded upon and audaciously launched onto the big screen by director Ron Howard.

Set in the busy little town of Whoville, the cinematic story begins when a cute little girl called Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen, who does a fine job) gets swept up in the Christmas shopping rush and begins to wonder just what Christmas is supposed to be about.

There’s a kerfuffle when the Grinch (Jim Carrey) is spotted playing games in town, and the townspeople’s fear that the Grinch might be intent on spoiling Christmas leads the curious Cindy Lou to find out more.

She discovers that the Grinch suffered a tormented childhood in Whoville, where his looks and penchant for crunching on crockery kind of set him apart from others. Finally ridiculed once too often while trying to woo the pretty Martha May Whovier (played during adulthood by Christine Baranski) – and at Christmas time, too – the Grinch escapes to live the life of a hermit on nearby Mount Crumpit.

Brave Cindy Lou ventures into the Grinch’s cave to invite him down to town to join in the Christmas celebrations. Although he huffs and puffs and tries to frighten her, she’ll take nothing of it. Finally he relents, but disaster ensues; the film then reverts to the original story, where the Grinch sneaks into town to steal presents and ruin Christmas.

Can Christmas – and the Grinch – be saved?

You won’t be on the edge of your seats during this film, but there are moments of humour provided by Carrey that adults will find mildly amusing. While children might be seduced by the colourful set, they won’t be cheered by it – it’s almost menacing and there’s always far to much peripheral stuff going on.

There are attempts at magic, but in a world of ugly pig-snouted characters they uniformly lack heart. The Grinch himself eventually finds his heart: unfortunately the film doesn’t come close, which is strange indeed in a genre that usually swings way too far in the other direction.

Carrey fans won’t be disappointed. His latex disguise as the green hirsute Grinch isn’t enough to hide the fact that its his comic character beneath; the downside of this, of course, is that those who aren’t Jim Carrey fans will still have to suffer his antics.

Anthony Hopkins narrates competently, but the occasional insertion of Dr Seuss’ poetry seems contrived and superfluous, a mere half-hearted attempt to project some of the story’s original flavour onto the screen. There is, however, an entertaining scene where the Grinch can’t stop talking in rhyme. The occasional shift into musical mode may also make audiences inwardly cringe.

This is a visual assault no less offensive and commercial than that offered in glitzy department store Christmas displays. Yes, it’s a shame that Christmas has turned so commercial; it happened around the time Hollywood did.

Run to see the chickens

Chicken Run

The first full-length feature from Aardman Animation – which has three Academy Awards for shorts under its belt – combines the fantastic artistry of those shorts with solid storytelling to create that rare species in Bangkok: a film actually worth venturing out to see that definitely won’t be tied in with any fast-food promotion.

Mel Gibson is the voice of cocky (ahem) American, Rocky the Flying Rooster, who makes a crash landing within the confines of Tweedy’s egg farm. Here, in conditions reminiscent of a prisoner-of-war camp, a group of hens are intent on escaping from an existence where the preservation of their life depends on their ability to produce eggs. The scheming is of course carried out in Hut 17.

The chickens are led by Ginger (Julia Sawalha from Absolutely Fabulous), the film’s feisty heroine and the most determined of them all to escape. She knows that there’s a place where the grass has to be greener, a poultry paradise without the evil Mrs Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) and suspicious Mr Tweedy (Tony Haygarth). Ginger is going to get there with her friends, even if they’re not all sure they really do need to get out. "We haven’t tried not escaping," says one.

Ginger offers protection to Rocky in return for lessons on how to fly for all the hens. These Rocky dutifully delivers when he’s not being fawned over by swooning hens as he lies in his outdoor jacuzzi. Ginger is suitably unimpressed.

The situation becomes more dire, however, when Mrs Tweedy installs a chicken pie-making machine that promises to increase her profits. A great Indiana-Jones like scene where Rocky and Ginger manage to escape the clutches of the intricate machine showcases the impeccable skills of directors Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit and Creature Comforts) and Peter Lord, who also produced the film.

The 563 plasticine figures in the film had to be painstakingly moved into 24 different positions for each second shot, making for a very realistic animation style that still gives absolute free reign to creativity – and gives new meaning to the description of a film being "well-crafted".

Chicken Run is one of those very rare imaginative and genuine films that will appeal as much to children as to adults. There are plenty of clever laughs and stunts, and some lovely characterisation – the two farm mice are noteworthy for their witty lines. The messages of the film are subtle and well-made, right down to the importance of Ginger’s feminism.

Thai audiences might not catch some of the jokes playing on the Anglo-American cultural difference evident between Rocky and the Tweedy Farm residents. For instance, the emphasis of the pure Britishness of former Royal Air Force rooster, Fowler (Benjamin Whitrow), could perhaps be lost: "Pushy Americans, always showing up late for every war," he says. "Overpaid, oversexed and over here!" (On the other hand, they might particularly identify with that line!)

This wouldn’t be enough, however, to hamper enjoyment by Thai audiences of this clever, compact and magical film that’s heartwarming without being too sentimental.

Girls still just wanna have fun

Charlie’s Angels

"Charlie’s Angle" the cinema’s newspaper ad said, so it could have been an attempt to hide the fact that it was really Charlie’s Angels. The trailer had been so cheesy and awful it wouldn’t have been surprising.

Surprisingly though, if you can stomach the blatant exploitation of the Angels’ boobs and bums – even though at times the movie claims to be mocking this exploitation, it nonetheless conveniently employs it – this is actually a sporadically entertaining movie. Forget the sleepy action, forget the plot full of holes, don’t look for anything intelligent and you might find yourself enjoying the ride.

Cameron Diaz (who plays naive Natalie), Lucy Liu (who plays smart Alex) and Drew Barrymore (who plays tough Dylan) together make up the Angels respectively in this cinematic version of the TV-series that ran from 1976 to 1981.

They’re out to show that they can be sexy, smart, and physically strong too. That is, the camera lingers gratuitously on their often rather impractical outfits, they can speak Japanese and defuse the occasional bomb, and they’re not at all bad at their martial arts.

Director "McG" has a history of directing video clips and commercials and it certainly shows, with the film itself really being just a platform for various sloppy action scenes – despite the participation of Hong Kong specialist Yuen Cheung Yan – and low-brow comedy sketches.

The movie kicks off with yet another of the latex-mask tricks Hollywood has not yet tired of using before getting down to the real show.

Natalie, Alex and Dylan are the elite fighting force behind the Charles Townsend Detective Agency. The women are hired to rescue a kidnapped computer software king (Sam Rockwell) from a rival (Tim Curry), but end up in a race to save their forever-faceless boss (the voice of John Forsythe) instead. A movie has never been easier to summarise in less than fifty words.

Much is made of 70s kitsch in the film, which is kind of fun, but not awfully clever. And the self-parodying is just not clever enough to be sustained for a full-length film. But it’s still mildly amusing.

Cameron Diaz will spend the rest of her career trying to live up to her performance in Being John Malkovich, where she actually acted, and well. Angels has merely given her an(other) opportunity to wriggle her bum and smile a lot, making her the most boring of the three Angels.

Drew Barrymore is feisty and plays with some guts, but it’s Lucy Liu, with her deadpan delivery and masterly performance in the dastardly dominatrix scene, who steals the show. And she was the lowest paid of the three "stars". Ah, Hollywood.

Bill Murray plays Bosley, the Angels’ handler. While a welcome face on the big screen, the script nevertheless relies more on his history of comedy than his actual lines in this film to grab laughs. In other words, audiences who have learned to enjoy his style of delivering lines will find him to be the best thing about the film, while those who haven’t will wonder who on earth the script writers were.

Charlie’s Angels doesn’t promise to deliver a lot, and it doesn’t. So extra points for honesty, but minus for not trying in the first place.

The ringmaster

From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, 1965-2000
By Lee Kuan Yew

If Singapore has been Asia’s most successful tiger, then Lee Kuan Yew has been the region’s greatest ringmaster. The second volume of Lee’s memoirs further consolidates Lee’s singular view of the world and Singapore’s place in it, making for compulsive reading.

Lee Kuan Yew will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest leaders in Southeast Asian history. As Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990 and “senior minister” thereafter, he was the driving force behind the transformation of Singapore from a reluctantly independent and Third World city-state – an “island without its hinterland, a heart without a body” – to one of the biggest economic success stories in Asia, if not the world.

As such, Lee’s version of the Singapore story – and this second volume of his memoirs clearly reveals that much of the Singapore story is his story – is an important and compelling read.

Lee has led a life of political passion. It would be tempting but also patronising to say that the irony is he’s created a city lacking much of that passion. He has fought on the big issues such as communism and capitalism, but has been just as devoted to personal and sometimes seemingly trivial issues as well, such as the length of men’s hair, female graduates choosing to remain unmarried, and the sale of chewing gum to Singapore’s three million people.

(Australian foreign correspondent Greg Sheridan reports that when the latter drew particular derision in the Western press, the head of Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Department retorted: “In most American cities you can buy crack cocaine easily, in Singapore you can’t buy chewing gum. Which of these two social realities ought to excite the moral indignation of world opinion?”)

All of these issues are covered in detail in this 691-page book. The first section charts the transformation of Singapore from its 1965 independence from Malaysia to the present year. It shows how Lee almost single-handedly managed “to build a nation out of a disparate collection of immigrants from China, British India, and the Dutch East Indies, or how to make a living for its people when its former economic role as the entrepot of the region is becoming defunct”.

Each chapter recounts the period from 1965 to 2000 following the development of a certain aspect of the nation, so some repetition is unavoidable. Lee documents his party’s struggle with defence, economic, social and political issues. It’s all here: efforts to build up the Singapore Armed Forces as it became clear that the withdrawal of the British was inevitable; the method in which the Singaporean economy was strengthened; the strong-handed manner in which communal problems were dealt with; the way in which income was redistributed without resorting to the creation of a welfare state, and so on.

Lee likes to think he strived to maintain Singapore as a neutral state, not unlike Switzerland in Europe. For instance, as the Vietnam War worsened in 1967, he made his memorable speech to the British Labour Party about not wanting “to sound like a hawk or a dove. If I have to choose a metaphor from the aviary, I would like to think of the owl. Anyone looking at what is happening in Vietnam must have baleful eyes.”

Lee’s almost absolute power in the People’s Action Party and Singapore is evident in the language he employs. Rarely is the term “we” used in place of “I”. Take the Singaporean banking system in the late 1990s, when Lee was no longer prime minister: “I concluded they were not awake to the dangers of being inbred … [so] I decided in 1997 to break this mould … I believed the time had come for the tough international players to force our Big Four to upgrade their services or lose market share … I concluded that Koh … was not keeping up with the enormous changes sweeping the banking industry.” However, Lee writes, “I did not want to revamp the MAS [Monetary Authority of Singapore] myself”. As he very well could have if he’d wanted to.

Lee is a leader who has appealed to convenient “traditions” to help mould a harmonious multi-racial society. But this appeal can be a double-edged sword. In the 80s, for instance, he set about reviving Confucianist values in a population which is three-quarters ethnic Chinese. Yet some scholars argue (Lee doesn’t mention this) that Confucianism is compatible with the people protesting against leadership they are unhappy with, something the state in Singapore hasn’t allowed much civic space for. (Yet in one breathtaking line Lee writes “Without much of an opposition in Parliament, I missed a foil to project issues.” He and his party’s policies were in no small way responsible for this state of affairs.)

But while traditions convenient to the PAP’s hold on power have been promoted, other traditions such as letting off firecrackers around Chinese New Year have been banned: “When we live in high-rises 10 to 20 storeys high, incompatible traditional practices had to stop.”

The second and lengthier part of the book will appeal to any reader with an interest in world events, as it focuses on Lee’s relations with world leaders, Singapore’s relations with other countries, the rise and fall of international institutions (Asean, the Commonwealth) and events with global effects (the 1997 economic downturn, Tiananmen Square). Lee isn’t shy about giving his opinion on anything, and many of his descriptions are illuminating.

Singapore’s bitter and turbulent relationship with Malaysia is a story well told, from Mahathir calling Lee in 1965 “insular, selfish and arrogant”, to Lee maintaining that “a multiracial society of equal citizens of was unacceptable to the Umno leaders of Malaysia in 1965 and remained unacceptable in 1999.” If Lee is ever smug about his contributions towards Singapore’s success, it shows when he writes that “This [success] was not what Malaysia’s leaders thought would happen when they asked us to leave in 1965.”

It’s difficult to think of a major twentieth century leader that Lee doesn’t describe in his book: Of Sukarno, Lee was “disappointed by the insubstantial conversation”; Suharto was “a careful, thoughtful man, the exact opposite of Sukarno … I would not classify Suharto as a crook”; Thailand’s Thanom was “not a complex man”; Vietnam’s Pham Van Dong was “arrogant and objectionable”; Taiwan’s Lee Teng-Hui was “self-confident, well-read and well-briefed on every subject that interested him”; George Bush was “an exceptionally warm and friendly man”; Margaret Thatcher was “an intense person, full of determination and drive”; and so on.

(He avoids mentioning directly what he thinks of Australia’s two most recent prime ministers, Paul Keating and John Howard, preferring instead to focus on Robert Menzies – perhaps he confuses ultra-conservative Howard with the Menzies of the 50s – it could happen to anyone.)

There are plenty of anecdotes thrown in. For instance, Habibie complained that Singapore took four days to send its congratulations to him after he took office. “It’s okay with me, but there are 211 million people [in Indonesia],” Habibie said. “Look at the map. All the green [area] is Indonesia. And that red dot is Singapore.” Prime Minister Goh responded in a speech that “Singapore had only the resources of three million people and there were limits to what ‘a little red dot’ like Singapore could do for its neighbours.”

Whether you respect Lee for his Herculean efforts in Singapore, or harbour misgivings at his patriarchal attitudes and strong-handed methods of handling the people he has led, this book will give you further insights into the man’s way of thinking. He certainly isn’t shy when it comes to singing his own praises; but it’s a rare person indeed who has managed to accomplished what Lee has.

And the Lee Kuan Yew story is far from over yet – senior minister Lee continues to play an active role in Singapore’s politics and international affairs. As recently as last weekend comments made by Lee about the elite in Indonesia led to Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid suggesting that Indonesia and Malaysia could band together to teach Singapore a “lesson” by cutting its water supplies. But as Lee points out, this is an eventuality that Singapore began preparing for decades ago.

An authentic taste of Thailand

With its soft opening on November 1, the Hotel Plaza Athenee has put Wireless Rd back into focus for those with their fingers on the pulse of the hotel scene. And with the new hotel, of course, comes several additions to the Bangkok wining and dining scene – in fact no less than five new restaurants and four bars have thrown open their doors.

According to my trusty Oxford Companion to Food, Thailand’s cuisine has spread across the globe these past three decades at a speed unprecedented by any other nation’s. Perhaps then, there’s no greater test of a hotel’s commitment to its dining patrons than its ability to provide Thai food worthy of travelling to Thailand to eat.

And so it is we find ourselves at Smooth Curry, which prides itself on creating truly authentic Thai dishes from around the country, and the days of old. Seating only sixty, the restaurant is certainly intimate enough for a romantic meal; there are two private rooms, however, which would be a good choice for more sizeable groups or for entertaining clients.

The furniture is sleek and stylish, the d?cor quietly sophisticated; inimitable Thai style has infected everything down to the silver cutlery and dark brown stoneware set on the table and simply shown off on crisp white tablecloths.

As we browsed the menu to the soft strains of traditional Thai music, we were served a welcome ginger drink. Sweet and cool, it was an omen of the good things to come.

We started with Paper Moons (Bt140), deep-fried rice shells filled with minced pork, shrimps, vermicelli, onions, salted egg yolk and mushrooms. The rice shells had an unusual texture and good flavour just on their own; but once broken open they released a small button of other well-balanced flavours. Just a few of these were the perfect appetiser, making at least my taste buds scream for more, but there are plenty of other more traditional dishes to try too – Tod Man Pla (fish cakes with a light curry flavour, Bt140) or Gai Hor Bai Toey (marinated chicken breast in pandanus leaf, Bt120), were some of the alternatives.

We dined just a few days after the hotel’s soft opening, so the wine list was still being printed. I edged towards a lemongrass juice anyway, while my partner stuck to his regular beer.

Next we tried a traditional twist on the ubiquitous Tom Yam Goong (which is also, of course, on the menu at Bt 200). The Tom Som Goong Nang (traditional Thai soup with prawns, ginger and spring onions, Bt220) had an almost citrus-like refreshing tang that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. That was until knowledgeable restaurant manager Oravee Thongsong came to the rescue – it was tamarind, of course. This is a dish definitely worth trying – even the prawns were noticeably tasty.

We had to give my favourite Thai dish a go, and it more than came up to scratch. The Yam Som O (spicy pomelo salad with prawns and chicken, Bt150) was quite rich, with a generous serving of the "spicy" part commanding attention.

Of course, we had to try a smooth curry as well. We went for the Panaeng Pla Salmon (salmon in red curry paste, Bt280), a single thick and juicy salmon steak smothered in a curry paste with real bite. Salmon-lovers might worry about the flavour of the salmon being lost under the curry; it’s certainly not as pronounced as a plain old salmon steak, but the dish gives a new appreciation of the marvellous texture of salmon itself.

We were tempted by the Ped Ob Bai Tamlueng (baked duck with vine leaves, Bt190) and edged towards the Hor Mok Talay (steamed curried seafood, Bt 220) – but decided take a rest instead.

There are no dazzling views to be had from this restaurant, but the food will hold your attention anyway. And in between dishes you can just soak up the tranquil atmosphere you’re in.

As we did prior to dessert. I sampled the Gluay Buard Chee Herng (banana in coconut cream, Bt80) while my partner went for the Khao Neaw Mamuang (sticky rice and mango, Bt130). Both were elegant ways to end out meal – we thought!

Khun Oravee decided that we should also try Thaong Yhib, Thaong Yawd, Med Kanhun, and Foy Thong (Thai egg sweet meats, Bt100) with our coffees. It was a wise move on her part, as they concluded the meal perfectly.

Smooth Curry stands its own in the sea of Thai restaurants in Bangkok hotels. It’s not breaking any culinary boundaries, but it’s doing what it sets out to do with admirable panache.