Colin Cotterill: The Motion Picture Teller

This charming mystery from Colin Cotterill’s innovative pen is not a murder mystery, but it is a mystery.  Set slightly in the past – 1996 – the action takes place mostly in a corner of Bangkok where postman Supot hangs out whenever he can at his buddy Ali’s video store.  This book will bring back a wave of memories of old video rental places and the pleasures of browsing the shelves and discovering a treasure.

While neither Ali or Supot make much money, they are united in their love of cinema, and their happiest hours are spent in the back of the store watching an old film like Casablanca. At one point, Supot thinks to himself: “He wondered if anyone had ever starved to death from enthrallment, dazzled to malnutrition by cinematic magic, not realizing they hadn’t eaten for a week.”  One night Ali and Supot’s viewing is interrupted by an old wino named Woot, who brings in a box of video tapes to sell.  Ali gives him a little bit of money, and as he and Supot go through the tapes, they discover an unknown (to them) movie called Bangkok 2010.

 The two men are completely entranced by the movie, which is set in a slightly dystopian future, and they watch it several times before attempting to discover who made it and why it hasn’t been released to the public.  They feel it’s a masterpiece.  The mystery is that the more the two – but especially Supot – look into it they discover more and more dead ends.  The film came from no studio, and has no known actors, writers or directors.  It has no footprint. Eventually, Supot decides the only thing to do is to write to the gorgeous star of the film.  To his shock, she writes him back, cautioning him to make sure no one else sees or gets ahold of the movie.

This is a beautifully written story, full of unexpected vignettes, characters, and the kind of plot twists at which Colin Cotterill excels.  It ultimately becomes Supot’s journey.  He becomes disenchanted with his job, and not hearing from the actress for a while, he decides to go and find her.  This takes him into the Thai jungle, and to reveal much more would be to give away some of the delights of this novel.

The book is salted with the movie’s narrative and dialogue, so you, as a reader, get a feel for the film and the reason Supot is so obsessed with it.  Like Supot’s story, the movie draws you in.  “Reading” a movie is a different experience, of course, from watching one, but as we readers know, there’s a lot of imagination involved in reading.  You create a world in your head as you read, and Cotterill helps with this process, in his imaginative, witty and profound way.  This is the work of a master of storytelling.