Good Woman of Bangkok, The: O’Rourke’s Personal Documentary

The subject of The Good Woman of Bangkok, a personal and subjective documentary in the manner of “Sherman’s March,” is a 25-year-old Thai prostitute, Aoi, who was director O’Rourke’s paid lover during production.

The Australian filmmaker went to Bangkok after his marriage broke up to have sex and make a documentary about a prostitute. The result of this personal collaboration is a complex, flawed movie, more of a horror story than O’Rourke realizes.

The film represents a mixture of willful naivetee, good intentions and colonial exploitation. The middle-aged (43 when he made the film) white director describes it as a “documentary fiction,” because he shifted the chronology of some events for the sake of dramatic shapeliness.

In his interviews with Aoi’s friends and family, O’Rourke gets the kinds of answers his respondents know he expects. O’Rourke and Aoi had a love affair, but the camera shows little evidence of love; Aoi seems to be beyond the point where love has any meaning. He offers to buy Aoi a farm to get her out of prostitution, and at the end of the film there is a note that he did. However, one year later, when he returns to Bangkok, Aoi is back working as a prostitute. This distorts the facts: O’Rourke did buy Aoi a farm, but he bought it during the shoot. Although that does not alter the portrait of Bangkok’s sex business, it does alter Aoi’s character as presented onscreen.

Ultimately, this fascinating film is less about Aoi than about O’Rourke–and the ways in which rich capitalistic powers treat poor Third World countries.