Divided evenly into two distinct – yet thematically harmonious – halves, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady is as stylistically striking as it is adventurous. Sculpted with a delicacy that amplifies its mood of tentative romanticism and mysterious passion, Weerasethakul’s intimate love story begins with attractive soldier Keng’s (Banlop Lomnoi) courtship of reticent country boy Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee), only to transform at its mid-point into a feverish fable about Keng’s jungle-set pursuit of a mythical shape-shifting creature. Though these two narrative strands are aesthetically dissimilar – one shy and reserved, the other heated and haunting – they nevertheless function as alternate (and inextricably associated) portraits of erotic longing, lust, dread and anxiety. The opening section’s blissful reverie of blossoming affection finds its dark, dangerous flip-side in the latter segment’s shadowy portrait of inexplicable desire, and throughout Weerasethakul’s gorgeous camera work and hypnotic pacing create an atmosphere of yearning for amorous communion. Whether with a scene of Keng and Tong intertwining their hands and legs in a movie theater, or through Keng’s piercing gaze into the eyes of a tiger (which becomes a stare directly into the camera), Weerasethakul regularly alludes to his film’s own cinematic artificiality, even as his tender, heady Tropical Malady pulsates with a fervent, exultant passion free of pretense.