Siam Sunset

Australia/United Kingdom 1999

Reviewed by Claire Monk


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Perry, creator of colours for a British paint company, attracts mysterious disasters. After his wife Maree is killed by a fridge falling from a plane, he becomes preoccupied with mixing a new colour, 'Siam Sunset'. He wins a tour of the Australian outback, but it is on a boneshaker bus with an inhospitable driver and Anglophobe passengers, and he is soon keen to leave. Meanwhile Grace, called to testify against her violent drug-dealer ex-lover Martin, flees with Martin's money and boards the bus.

She is drawn to Perry, but Martin forcibly joins the tour and threatens the pair. The driver crashes the bus while racing a rival coach, leaving Martin unconscious. The group take refuge at Eric's, a derelict diner. Perry tells Grace about his wife's death. They make love, and he finally finds his dream colour. Martin recovers, tries to kill Perry and demands the money, but dies in events triggered by Grace throwing a snake. The group conceal Martin's death and are rescued by the rival coach operator. Perry and Grace stay on in the desert.


Siam Sunset shares with 1994's international Australian hit The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert a producer (Al Clark), a central plot vehicle - bickering, disparate characters are thrown together on a rickety bus travelling across the outback - and, one presumes, the same global commercial ambitions. How far actor-turned-director John Polson's debut film will achieve these ambitions is hard to predict. It's a comedy-adventure-romance - heterosexual in counterpoint to Priscilla's faux queerness - which sees no contradiction in marrying a callous attitude towards its characters with sentimentality. Its callousness is selective: we are meant to feel moved rather than sneer when Perry explains to Grace that the elusive colour he is seeking (and can't find in England) is "peace". The film's moments of horror, on the other hand, are played for laughs, requiring a more cynical mode of engagement from audiences. The psychopathic villain, Martin, spends the film's climax on the rampage with third-degree burns before meeting an imaginatively staged death by electrocution while impaled on a coat hook.

Where Priscilla toned down and conflated transsexuality and transvestite camp for mainstream consumption, Siam Sunset's unique selling points - Perry's semi-magical gift with colour and his curse of attracting unexplained, often fatal physical events - are less flamboyant and more esoteric. Both devices are rich with allegorical as well as comic potential, but the film exploits them rather superficially, as if its makers regard conceptual vigour as incompatible with comedy. Perry's lovemaking with Grace sparks an amusing cacophony of spinning fans and fusing lights, but the causes and meaning of his capacity for attracting kinetic mayhem are left unexplored.

But these gimmicks are not Siam Sunset's main attraction, and neither, really, is its romance. As the lovers, Linus Roache (slyly charismatic as the English paints specialist Perry) and Danielle Cormack (as Grace, on the run from her violent ex Martin) give likeable performances. It's just that the film's checklist of romantic conventions - unconvincing mutual wariness at first, then shared trials which lead to a predictable epiphany - bleeds their courtship of any tension.

Siam Sunset functions best as a comedy of cultural differences and prejudices. Its humour derives from its details: in particular, the script (by Max Dann and Andrew Knight) is astutely observant of character, individual as much as national. While Roache's Perry is initially set up as a stereotypically reserved Englishman, the film soon subverts this cliché. He's a rare sight in late-90s movies: a middle-class Englishman who inhabits a recognisable late-90s culture. He works in a modern office, lives in a modern house and knows how to make a customer complaint. (Within minutes of boarding the coach, he is branded a whinging Pom for asking to be moved because an air-conditioning duct has just collapsed on to his head.)

The film's Australians are, by contrast, mostly portrayed as hidebound, inward-looking and self-deluded on the matter of their nation's greatness. In short, they embody the flaws which used to be attributed to Britons. The tour's wonderfully petty driver plays his commentary tape for non-English-speaking tourists a day early "so that we don't waste everyone else's valuable time tomorrow." As the bus limps through a barren landscape blighted with pylons, a fellow passenger brags at Perry: "Your country's finished. Why would anyone want to live in Britain when you could have all this?" Ironically, Siam Sunset was part-financed by the Australian Film Commission and two Australian regional bodies. Its self-puncturing humour may cause as much annoyance at home as Notting Hill has to some audiences in the UK, but it's a much funnier, less self-regarding film - and at least it finds something fresh to say about British identity.


John Polson
Al Clark
Max Dann
Andrew Knight
Based on an original idea by
Max Dann
Andrew Knight
Jan Marnell
Director of Photography
Brian Breheny
Nicholas Beauman
Production Designer
Steven Jones-Evans
Music/Music Arranger/
Paul Grabowsky
©Australian Film Finance Corporation Limited/The Premium Movie Partnership/
South Australian Film Corporation/New South Wales Film and
Television Office/
Artist Services Pty Ltd.
Production Companies
Australian Film Finance Corporation presents
in association with Showtime Australia
an Artist Services production
Financed by the Australian Film Finance Corporation in association with
Showtime Australia/
Channel 4 UK joint venture
Produced with assistance & finance from South Australian Film Corporation/New South Wales Film and Television Office Developed with the assistance of Film Victoria
Script developed with the assistance of the Australian Film Commission
Executive Producers
Andrew Knight
Peter Beilby
Associate Producer
Max Dann
Production Supervisor
Elizabeth Symes
Production Co-ordinator
Heather Muirhead
Unit Managers
Michael Gill
2nd Unit:
Gary Buss
Location Manager
Mason Curtis
Post-production Supervisor
John May
Assistant Directors
Phil Jones
Toni Raynes
Clair Parker
2nd Unit:
Lindsay Smith
Jacqui Canty
Kristin Voumard
Ann Robinson
Mullinars Consultants
Andy Pryor
2nd Unit Director of Photography
David Foreman
Camera Operators
Brian Breheny
Laurie Kirkwood
Visual Effects
Rising Sun Pictures
Additional CGI Effects/
Butterfly Sequence/
Digital Film Scanning/
DFilm Services
Special Effects
Peter Stubbs
Jeff Little
Kevin Turner
Gordon Barber
Tim O'Brien
Carl Sorger
Andrew McCallister
Ray Landsman
Model Maker
Simon Ingerson
Andrew Crouch
Art Director
Richard Hobbs
Scenic Artists
John Haratzis
Guy Allain
Georgia Allain
Storyboard Artist
John Forrest
Costume Designer
Louise Wakefield
Costume Supervisor
Graham Purcell
Sue Taylor
Tina Gordon
Additional Make-up
Fiona Rees-Jones
Hair/Make-up/Prosthetics Artist
Nicole Spiro
Prosthetic Design
Mark A. Nichols
Optical & Graphic
Optical Effects
DFilm Services
Boy Soprano
Jonathan Ryan
Orchestra Leader
Rudi Osadnik
Music Co-ordinator
Mike Grabowsky
Robin Gray
Music Consultant
Christine Woodruff
"Raindrops" - Alan Brough; "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" - Adoration on the Gospel Train;
"Hallelujah"- Vince Jones; "A Swingin' Safari"
Sound Recordist
John Schiefelbein
Mauricio Hernandez
Julie Pearse
Phil Judd
Supervising Sound Editor
Andrew Plain
Dialogue Editors
Jane Paterson
Peter O'Brien
ADR/Atmos Editor
Nada Mikas
Les 'Spider' Fiddess
Aboriginal Heritage Advisers
Ian Crombie
David Crombie
Stunt Co-ordinators
Johnny Hallyday
Glenn Boswell
2nd Unit Armourer
Marcus Bosisto
Dog Wranglers
Angela Dixon
Geoff Thomson
Snake/Scorpion Wrangler
Peter Mirtschin
Butterfly Wrangler
Todd Downs
Linus Roache
Danielle Cormack
Ian Bliss
Roy Billing
Alan Brough
Rebecca Hobbs
Terry Kenwrick
Deidre Rubenstein
Peter Hosking
Victoria Eagger
Robert Menzies
Eliza Lovell
Heidi Glover
Lachlan Standing
Esme Melville
Chuong Dao
Mr Nguyen
Alan Lovell
Stan Porter
Victoria Hill
Arthur Percival
Roger Cardwell
Mr Waugh
Dominic Pedlar
paint factory worker
Charlie Barnes
bingo caller
Marlo Grocke
surgery receptionist
Paul Simpson
Len Firth
truck driver
Denis Noble
country cop
Rebecca Harris
Blue Dolphin Film & Video
8,269 feet
91 minutes 53 seconds
Dolby Digital
In Colour
2.35:1 [Panavision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011