More than three years in the making, Queens of Langkasuka makes its Asian premiere tonight as the "gala opening" of the Bangkok International Film Festival.
Director Nonzee Nimibutr has spent anywhere from 150 million to 200 million baht to make the movie, so a lot is riding on it.
It has all the makings of a blockbuster -- big stars, loads of special effects, lavish costumes and an exotic seaborne setting.
Leading the cast is Jarunee Suksawat, who was a major star back in the 1980s and '90s. This marks her return to the big screen. Prominent leading man Ananda Everingham has a major role as a loin-cloth-clad Aquaman who can communicate with the marine life. Action star Dan Chupong plays a loyal military commander of the queen. There's also veteran star Sorapong Chatree, as well as folks from past Nonzee films, like Jessadaporn Pholdee (Dang Bireley’s and the Young Gangsters), Winai Kributr (Nang Nak) and Suwanit Panjamawat (Jan Dara).
The story has something to do with a really huge cannon that sinks in the sea. Possession of that big gun is key to holding the ancient land of Langkasuka.
Nonzee worked on a script with S.E.A. Write Award-winning writer Win Lyovarin, which is set around 400 years ago in places that today are part of Malaysia and southern Thailand.
Even though there are a lot of fantastical elements -- like a stingray-riding sea sorcerer and a aerial naval bombing strike involving hang-glider-borne warriors -- there is a kernel of historical fact. Says Nonzee, in a recent Daily Xpress article:
It would be easier to make Pirates of the Caribbean because there’s no need to worry about the historical background."
Originally the movie was to be called Queens of Pattani, but Nonzee was urged to steer away from that title because of the separatist violence in the southern Thai provinces of today that include Pattani. Here's more from a recent Bangkok Post article (cache):
It was true that I intended the movie to be more historical than it now is," says Nonzee. "That's what interested me in the beginning - the colourful peoples who lived in and traded with Pattani, and sure, the role of Ayutthaya in those years.
"But during shooting and editing, I had to make a choice, and in the end I chose to focus more on the fantasy than the history. I think that's what the spirit of the story is about."
Queens of Langksuka premiered at the Cannes Film Market, where it got mixed reviews. A special midnight screening at the recent Venice Film Festival brought more of the same.
Originally envisioned as a two-parter, and then cut down into one 140-minute movie, critics have complained it's too long. For its commercial release in Thailand, starting on October 23 it will probably run around 120.
Despite the drubbing from the industry press, Nonzee is hopeful about the film's commercial prospects. He has to be. Here's more from a recent interview in BK Magazine:
Honestly, I really want Queens of Langkasuka to be a blockbuster. The movie company [Sahamongkol Film International] has invested a fortune. Let’s hope, for their sake (and mine), that the film breaks even because if it doesn’t, we might not get to see something this grand again.
After its Thai commercial run, Queens will be the opening film for the Southeast Asian program at the Golden Horse Film Festival in Taipei in November. Screen Daily has more on that. Update: It will also be at the American Film Market.