- Directed by Ratana Pestonji
- Starring Ratanavadi Ratanabhand, Tom Wisawachart, Seni Wisaneesarn
- Released in 1961; available on DVD from the Thai Film Foundation
- Rating: 5/5
Made in 1961, Ratana Pestonji's Phrae Dum (Black Silk or แพรดำ), is film noir -- Thailand's first -- with a Buddhist perspective.
The main characters cannot escape their karma.
Phrae is a young widowed woman who lives in a traditional-style Thai wooden house along a canal. She weaves silk and tends to her fields. She still wears black, long after her husband has died. She has a boyfriend, Tom, and it's through him that Phrae becomes caught in a web of deception and murder. Phrae repents for her part in what happened by becoming a Buddhist nun.
Ratana cast his own daughter, Ratanavadi Ratanabhand, as Phrae, who wears the black clothes of a mourning widow heavily. And when the time comes for her to shave her head, there's no skin wig -- it's the actress' real locks who fall under the razor. Such sacrifice for art.
To go into the elaborate scheming by Tom's greedy boss, the nightclub owner Seni, would be to spoil the fun of this drama. Briefly though, the plot involves a dead twin brother, a murder, a faked death, a kidnapping, another faked death and ultimately betrayal, prison and execution. Oh sure, there's a hole or two in that plot, but I still couldn't help but look on with amazement as the events breathlessly unfold.
Bleak as all that sounds, Black Silk is enlivened by music and dance -- a trademark of Pestonji -- and it's unabashedly colorful. Also, the sights and sounds of Bangkok of the early 1960s are captured, with streets scenes of the old tram, the Grand Palace and life along the canals.
It remains an influential and amazing film, with shades of Phrae Dum cropping up in the works of contemporary filmmakers Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Wisit Sasanatieng.
I'm thankful that the film has survived the years, and has been released on DVD by the Thai Film Foundation for everyone to enjoy.