Felice Bassuk & Richard F. Russell


Desire permeates the steamy, teeming streets of Bangkok.  Desire thrusts Kimberly, the blonde wife of an American diplomat, into the embrace of opium.  Desire fuels the ambition of Clay, the blind diplomat.  Desire burns inside Toshiro, the half-American, half-Japanese drug kingpin who has become Kimberly’s lover.  Desire rules all—except for Sybil, privileged daughter of Clay and Kimberly.  For her, desire bides its time.

Sybil and Supatra, her Nanny and bodyguard, celebrate Songkran, a holiday for performing kind deeds.  Sybil releases a fish to the freedom of the river as revelers crowd the shore.  Not far away, Toshiro purchases a pendant, a gift for the woman he wishes to possess.  In the American embassy, Clay labors despite the holiday.

In Kimberly’s bedroom, Toshiro presents his gift and asks the question, when will she forsake her marriage and come to him?  Hazy, needing the warmth only drugs grant, Kimberly commits to the future, not now.  The extra hit leaves Kimberly careless, and Sybil discovers the pipe that will cause a confrontation between husband and wife.

Under scrutiny, Kimberly cannot meet Toshiro, cannot abandon her daughter, cannot continue the affair of desire.  Jilted, Toshiro cannot abide disrespect.  Revenge takes hold, and Toshiro sends thugs to kidnap Sybil.  But the thugs underestimate Supatra, who dispatches them with aplomb.  As she turns to flee, she faces Golden Girl, a blonde Thai, Toshiro’s personal bodyguard. Overmatched, Supatra provides just enough time for Sybil to flee—right into the arms of the thugs.

Clay and Kimberly can barely grasp their loss.  As they await a ransom demand, they struggle to not blame each other.  When Sybil’s blood-soaked shoes arrive in an anonymous box, fear knifes deeper.  Kimberly does what she vowed never to do—ask Toshiro for help.  He merely humiliates her.

Clay roams the crowded streets as Sybil is delivered to a brothel.  Her hair dyed black, her doll smashed, her named changed, Sybil learns the cruel truth of captivity.  She must obey or face the wrath of Golden Girl, Ratana (another brothel girl), and Mamasan, the brothel keeper.

A sick Kimberly returns to the States.  At an embassy function, Clay confronts his nemesis Toshiro.  Words turn to blows, and Clay becomes persona non grata.  He too must abandon Bangkok.  Before he goes, he hires a detective and offers a reward.  A brothel Regular recognizes the face on the poster.  Paydirt.

In Virginia, Clay discovers Kimberly is pregnant.  His?  She cannot say.  Recriminations are not helpful but inevitable.

The Regular breaks into the brothel to steal Sybil, only to face Golden Girl who bars the door.  The ensuing battle bloodies both and ends only when he forsakes his prize.  Sybil returns to nasty chores as Ratana insists Sybil’s mother sold her into slavery.

Kimberly gives birth to an almond-eyed girl, clearly not Clay’s.  Clay badgers the Thai detective; one year has not dampened his desire to find his daughter.

Sybil launches a desperate run for freedom, locating her old house and its new occupants.  Rebuffed, she stumbles into a gang that will have her as they please.  Enter Golden Girl as deadly as mortal sin.  The encounter pits her against a formidable crew, and she smokes them.  She is that good.  Sybil returns to the brothel where Mamasan beats her almost to death.  Ratana bathes her wounds.

Ten years later, Sybil works in the brothel but not as a consort.  She has grown beautiful and willful as she is presented to Toshiro who has achieved his own handsomeness.  Toshiro moves her and Ratana to his fortified compound in the Thailand hills, a place of luxury and training.  Golden Girl handles security, soliciting recruits and training them to serve.  Sybil enjoys unparalleled care but not the trust given to Golden Girl who shaves Toshiro.  A nick of Toshiro’s neck earns Golden Girl a cut on her hand.

Toshiro introduces Sybil to koi, the fish populating his exquisite ponds.  She learns that “koi are strong, koi are resilient. To be koi is to swim against the current and survive.” She begins to understand the enigma that is Toshiro. The lessons of koi extend beyond the pond.

Ratana and Sybil bond as sisters while Sybil challenges Golden Girl.  Both sit beside Toshiro as the final test for the recruits pits one against another.  Victors stay; losers are banished.

A Loser persuades a local gang to kidnap Sybil, a prize that could win them entrance into the US.  As an orgiastic party roils from room to room, the gang slips into the compound.  They seek Sybil and raise the suspicions of Golden Girl.  When they discover Sybil by the koi pond, they bind and hood her, ready to flee.  Only, they have not accounted for Golden Girl.  She handles the gang, but the Leader rushes off with Sybil.

Just as the Leader reaches the wall, Toshiro appears.  Mocking Toshiro, the Leader attacks, only to find he faces a master.  Toshiro toys with the Leader before he kills him.  Sybil is unhurt, and Golden Girl understands what Toshiro is willing to do for the girl.

Sybil learns the intimacy of the Japanese tea ceremony while Ratana’s illness worsens.  Denied access to health care, she stands little chance.  In his office, Toshiro reveals his obsession with Kimberly and all things Kimberly.  He cannot forget.

At a soccer game, Kimberly watches daughter Marissa sprint for the pass.  Clay brings news of a Sybil sighting—this time in northern Thailand.   A cynical Kimberly prepares for yet another trip to the land of desire.

Ratana weakens, and Toshiro is deaf to Sybil’s pleas.   Sybil convinces Ratana they will find medicine in Bangkok, her only chance for survival.

Camouflaged as peasants, Sybil and Ratana trudge and sweat their way to Bangkok.  Inside a taxi, Clay and Kimberly glimpse them—but only as two peasant girls among the throngs that cram the streets of Bangkok.Outside the US embassy, a mob burns an American flag.  Thai soldiers descend on the protesters like flies on a carcass. The girls stare at the fortress-like building as a guard

 shoos them away.  Sybil tries to explain their plight, but the guard scoffs.  From a window inside the embassy, Clay spots the blonde girl outside.  Could it be Sybil?  He jets out of the building, Kimberly in tow.  Sybil and Ratana have vanished.  Around the corner, policemen handcuff the girls and shove them into the back of a van.

After searching the streets, Clay and Kimberly visit the detective, a minion of Toshiro’s, paid to fan their meager hopes.  Angry, frustrated, Clay lashes out at the detective and at Kimberly.  Nothing is gained.  The distance between Clay and Kimberly grows wider and colder.

Sybil and Ratana are hauled into the mansion.  Toshiro confines Sybil to a solitary cell with barely enough sustenance to keep her alive.  When released, Sybil demands to know what’s become of Ratana.  Toshiro says Ratana will receive medicine but will never return.

Having lost her only friend, Sybil embraces the koi.  She reads about koi, observes them, feeds them, cares for the sick among them, and grows to love them.

Toshiro installs Sybil in Golden Girl’s luxurious bedroom.  Sybil now shaves Toshiro, Sybil is now best girl.  Golden Girl smolders with toxic jealousy.

Toshiro seeks a license for a new enterprise. He takes Sybil with him on a visit to a government official.  With stabbing insults, the official refuses Toshiro’s request.  The official, his wife, and children are subsequently found slaughtered.

Clay and Kimberly meet with a shady “broker,” a man who claims to have rescued Sybil.  They question the girl and expose her as an imposter.  Disappointed yet again, Kimberly curses the girl and broker.

To reward Sybil for diligent care of the koi, Toshiro takes her on an outing.  He buys her a sexy dress. They eat at a fancy restaurant. They visit a night club.  She notes his fascination with topless dancers, especially those who resemble Caucasian girls.  Later, she dances seductively before him, a precursor to sex.

In Virginia, a gentle peace reigns between Clay and Kimberly.  Marissa, however, butchers her hair.  A friend has told Marissa that she is adopted, that her roots are black, and her hair will grow back black if she cuts it.  Kimberly assures Marissa that her hair is blonde, that Clay and Kimberly are her real parents.  Acceptance leads to a loving hug.

Panic strikes when Sybil finds her beloved koi floating lifeless in the pond.  She attempts to save a struggling few, a futile effort.  Toshiro gathers suspects, but Sybil shoulders the blame.  She’s the koi keeper.  She exposes her neck for the fatal strike.  Instead, Toshiro slashes Golden Girl, the true culprit.

Toshiro and Sybil travel to Japan, to a koi farm.  He entrusts her with choosing the most desirable fish.  Later, at his grandparents’ house, he exults in overcharging them a bekko.  Why, she wonders, does he hate his grandparents so?  After his mother married an American, he tells her, they disowned his mother and abandoned him—acts he can never forgive.  He reminds her, “You suffer as I do. Two lonely souls without anchor.”

On a mountaintop overlooking crashing waves, Toshiro dares the heavens to sweep them away.  He is disappointed when not released.

Back at the compound, Sybil and Toshiro marry in a simple Shinto ceremony.  The following morning, Sybil stumbles upon Ratana’s trinket in Toshiro’s cabinet. She deduces that Ratana is dead.  Rummaging further, she discovers letters written to Toshiro from a lover.  She suspects they are from her mother.  Photos of Kimberly convince her that she is correct. A stack of clippings about Kimberly emanate from one place—Alexandria, Virginia.  Grabbing a cell phone, she calls her parents’ house.  When her mother answers, Sybil is mute.  She can’t find the words.

Sybil confronts Toshiro.  He kidnapped her.  He killed her nanny.  He killed Ratana.  She questions if he ever loved her, or did he marry her to avenge himself on Kimberly.  His response: “Koi deal with surprise. Koi overcome.”

Knowledge strengthens Sybil and the tides shift.  Sybil sends a Thai girl to shave Toshiro in her stead.  Sybil saves a flawed koi that Toshiro wanted to destroy.  Sybil mounts Toshiro in bed, her face a mask of desire and power.

Party night.  A drunken Toshiro enters the pond with Sybil.  He trips and pulls her down with him.  He utters a few careless words that rile Sybil.  She curses him. He starts to choke her.  She pulls a knife from her bra and plunges it into his chest.  They struggle, but the painful wound weakens Toshiro.  Sybil frees herself and holds his head under water until his flailing ceases.  Koi surround him, nipping at his ears, nose, throat.  She watches his body submerge before she flees to the bushes.  She grabs a hidden purse, slips through the gate to the main road, and flags a bus.  She is free.

At the airport in Vientiane, Laos, the only blonde in a cluster of Asians, Sybil shows her ticket and passport and proceeds down the ramp to the plane.

Dusk in Alexandria, Virginia, where long shadows cast a lonely hue over the houses. Toys dot manicured lawns on her parents’ block. Sybil’s eyes feast on every overturned hot-wheel, every discarded doll.  She arrives at the house and circles it.  In the kitchen, Clay and Kimberly wash dishes and chat side by side, while Marissa does homework.  Protected by shadow, Sybil hungrily watches.

She drifts to the front of the house.  Hesitating at the bottom step, she squares her shoulders and climbs, rings the bell.  Kimberly opens.  They stare.  Embrace.  Clay joins them.

Three months later.  Marissa wants Sybil to come to her soccer game, but first Marissa must learn.  At the stream behind the house, Sybil removes her shoes and wades.  Marissa follows.  Sybil snares a fish and coaxes Marissa to touch it.  Sybil sets it free.  Why? Marissa asks.  Like all creatures, it has its life to live.