Tone is the Thai equivalent of a 1960s youth rebellion movie, which is to say that there's no youth rebellion in it at all: Just good kids being good, dancing sedately, trying to get into good schools, drinking punch, bowling, and settling their romantic differences in the most clear-headed and amicable way possible -- even if they do so while wearing some seriously funky period clothes and listening to that crazy longhair music. Fortunately, there are also some vicious underworld characters on hand so that we can still have the traditional Thai movie finale in which the Thai police show up en masse to shoot the hell out of some people.
The immediate attraction of Tone is that it features The Impossibles, a band that was phenomenally popular in Thailand throughout the seventies, and who still draw huge crowds for their reunion concerts today. In keeping with Tone's lightweight, um, tone, The Impossibles (and, yes, their name apparently was taken from the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon) were seen as the safe alternative to the protest music that the actual rebellious youth of Thailand were listening to at the time, and, as such, here perform original songs that celebrate the innocent joys of things such as school vacations and rail travel. The band was also the first Thai band to record English language versions of Western pop hits, and here they perform The Beatles "Birthday", Crazy Elephant's bubblegum chestnut "Gimme, Gimme Good Lovin'" and "Time is Tight", among others. Though they would soon adopt a sound heavily influenced by American funk -- even doing covers of early Kool and the Gang songs on later albums -- they here demonstrate a garage-born, harmony-inflected sunshine pop sound.
The film follows the journey of Tone, an orphaned young country boy whose dream of attending university in Bangkok is hampered by the fact that he has no family or friends to sponsor him in the big city. His fortunes change, however, when he rescues Aod, a visiting college kid from the city, from a gang of local thugs. Aod, who is also an orphan, invites Tone to come live with him in Bangkok in the home he shares with his brother and sister. Unfortunately, while in Tone's village Aod has also met and become smitten with the beautiful Kularb, a childhood friend of Tone's to whom he has recently confessed deeper feelings. Ultimately Tone, Aod and Kularb all end up in the city, making for a low-key love triangle that the filmmakers provide an easy exit strategy from in the form of Aod's also beautiful sister Dang, who quickly falls for Tone. Somewhere in all this the kids get on the wrong side of a nasty pimp with ties to the thugs in Tone's home town who has evil designs on Kularb and Dang. This situation leads to the aforementioned guns-blazing denouement, one that is somewhat at odds with much of the wholesome shenanigans that have preceded it.
Tone started out quite slow, but as it went on I found myself becoming completely charmed by it. Once the action moves to the city and starts to focus on the with-it, Nehru jacket wearing ways of its young protagonists, it creates a winsome, candy colored and completely unreal bubblegum psychedelic world in which the stubborn decency of those protagonists actually makes a strange kind of sense. (Note that these kids have posters of Petula Clark, rather than Hendrix or Jim Morrison, on their bedroom walls.) Given this, the film is also quite the visual treat for fans of kitschy late sixties fashion and decor -- and, with its combination of musical numbers and wholesome antics, would be an especially smooth entryway into classic Thai cinema for fans of Bollywood's more carefree confections from the period. Recommended.