Thursday, June 23, 2005

King of the White Elephant, Boat House up for restoration

Good news from the Bangkok Post and The Nation: Two old Thai films, King of the White Elephant from 1941 and 1962's The Boat House, are the first two films chosen for a restoration project launched by Ministry of Culture, which is cooperating with Technicolor (Thailand), a division of Thomson Group.

King of the White Elephant, or Phra Chao Chang Pheuak, is the only pre-World War II Thai film to survive in its complete form. Produced by Pridi Banomyong, minister of finance and ambassador to France, the story was set against the backdrop of hostilities between Siam's realm of Ayutthaya and Burma. An English-language film, it carried a message of peace to demonstrate Thailand's neutral stance during the war.

The Japanese invaded Thailand later in 1941, and the government, led by Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram, signed a treaty with Japan and turned the Thai film industry toward making propaganda movies that whipped up nationalist fervor.

The Boat House, or Reun Pae, is a Thai-Hong Kong co-production and starred Chaiya Suriyan and Sor Assanachinda. Its theme song, "Reun Pae" by Charin Nanthanakorn, was a hit in its day and remains well known. Can't find anything about what it's about, but probably, as with a lot of Thai films from that era, it contained everything anyone would want -- action, romance, comedy, drama and music.

''These films were chosen as their original negatives have been lost,'' Dome Sukwong, archivist for the National Film Archive, told the Post. ''A few years ago, the archive was able to obtain a good print of The Boat House -- good enough to allow Technicolor (Thailand) to make a duplicate negative as preservation material to replace the copy we have.''

For The King of the White Elephant, whose original negative was destroyed during World War II, the archive was able to get a 35mm duplicate from a 16mm copy borrowed from the Library of Congress in the US. ''The 35mm copy has some sound and other problems which Technicolor (Thailand) will correct,'' Dome said.

After it is restored, King of the White Elephant will be screened publicly for the first time in more than 60 years on August 16 to celebrate Thai Peace Day, the 60th anniversary of the Free Thai Movement headed by Pridi.

Dome and his National Film Archive receive Bt3 million a year for restoration work, but there are several hundred damaged films to be restored and only three staff working on restoration and preservation with outdated equipment.

"The Film Archive is like a hospital that receives a lot of patients but has no one to foot the bill, because everybody assumes it should be the government's responsibility. I hope this pioneer project will inspire other private film companies to work with us," Dome told The Nation.

Paul Stambaugh, managing director of Technicolor (Thailand), told the Post that preserving film heritage should be a combined effort of the government and private sectors. ''Film-makers should contribute to their own industry, and the government should also add some support.''

"I have a natural love of film preservation and have worked in this field for the company for 10 years. It was one of my goals to get involved with the national archive. As a motion-picture company, I think we have an obligation to help," Stambaugh told The Nation.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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