Friday, February 15, 2008

Laos ready for its close up

The sleepy, land-locked Southeast Asian country of Laos has never been known for its prodigious output of films. That's because it hasn't produced much of anything since 1975, when the country was taken over by communists, and has since been largely isolated from world affairs.

Only two films have been produced since 1975, the 1983 docudrama Siengpeun Chak Thonghai (The Sound of Gunfire from the Plain of Jars), which was a co-production with Vietnam, and 1988's Red Lotus (Bua Daeng), a romantic drama set in 1972 and directed by Som Ok Southiphonh.

Since then, the "film" industry of Laos has been confined to video, primarily made-for-television features and state-controlled propaganda works. Digital technology makes filmmaking more accessible, but with the media under strict control of the Laotian government, these tools won't be finding their way into the hands of any independent Laotian directors.

Nonetheless, Laos seeks to break out, with a new film called Sabaidee Luang Prabang, or Good Morning, Luang Prabang, which I wrote about in an earlier post. The romantic drama is a Thai-Lao co-production, and Kong Rithdee has more on the film in today's Bangkok Post (cache):

Principally a curiosity, but hopefully a seed of cultural revival, Sabaidee Luang Prabang is going through the final phase of post-production in a Bangkok editing room. The film bears the Lao flag, but its true lineage is a heady cross-pollination of different personalities and cultures: Sabaidee Luang Prabang is co-directed by Kiev-educated Laotian Anusorn Sirisakda and Thai filmmaker Sakchai Deenan (who's originally from the province of Surin in the Northeast), and stars red-hot Bangkok-based Laotian-Australian actor Ananda Everingham and Vientiane beauty queen Khamlek Pallawong.

Sabaidee Luang Prabang is described as a road movie, covering Pakxe in the south, and up the Mekong to the capital Vientiane and then the Unesco World Heritage city of Luang Prabang. Ananda portrays Sorn, a Bangkok-based Laotian-Australian journalist who travels to Laos and gets in touch with his family roots and develops feelings for his guide, Noi (Khamlek).

This makes for at least five films by Ananda Everingtham this year. In addition to Sabaidee Luang Prabang, they are Queen of Langkasuka by Nonzee Nimibutr (possibly for release in time for the Cannes Film Festival), Red Eagle with Wisit Sasanatieng (possibly for release in August), The Coffin by Ekachai Uekrongtham, and something called Memories. ( has more on that.)

Ananda, 25, who was born in Thailand to an Australian photojournalist father and a Laotian mother (a legendary romance that was the subject of an American made-for-TV movie), reduced his fee in order to take part in the production. He talked to Kong Rithdee about Sabaidee Luang Prabang:

It gave me a special energy to be in a production like this. It's a small movie. We didn't have much money, so we hit the road and shot our scenes along the way. Sometimes we just knocked on a stranger's door and asked if we could shoot a scene in their house, and wherever we shot it became an event for the whole town.

As a half-Laotian, I feel a connection to the country and I want to know more about it. This film is very personal to me. In my mind, I want Sabaidee Luang Prabang to become more than just a movie: I want it to become something that can represent Laos, something that the country can be proud of. As a matter of fact, a lot of Thai people still look down on Laos, and it stings me sometimes to think about that.

Cultural ties between Thailand and Laos haven't been on the best terms. Laotian officials are sensitive to the fact that television sets along the Laotian side of the Mekong are tuned in to Thai soap operas. One of them, Pleng Rak Song Fang Kong (Love Songs Across The Mekong), was the subject of complaints last year, when a group of Laotian women protested against the depiction of their countrywomen as a bunch of conniving, man-stealing, know-you-whats.

In 2006, the release of the sports comedy Lucky Loser was postponed after Laos objected to the depiction of the Laotian national football team as a bunch of backward hayseeds. Lucky Loser was eventually released after all references from Laos had been digitally removed or dubbed over.

According to an earlier Vientiene Times report, Sabaidee Luang Prabang was aiming for release around the Lao (and Khmer and Thai and Vietnamese - TetBurmese) New Year holiday of April 13, but I'm not sure when the release is planned for Thailand.

More information:

(Photo via Deknang)


  1. Interesting. Is there a cinema infrastructure in Laos? If there isn't hopefully there will be a resurgence. Too bad their government's evil.

  2. According to the Post article, there's a couple of cinemas in Vientiane. Production facilities are government controlled, though.

    With digital, all a filmmaker needs is a camera and a laptop, but that's a lot for the average Laotian. Still, there's a digital revolution going on in the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand. It'd be nice to see it spread to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.


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