Wednesday, March 11, 2009

4DK's Thai kaiju: The Films of Sompote Sands

Die, Danger, Die, Die Kill! has recently wrapped up a year-long, 10-part series of reviews, The Films of Sompote Sands, covering the "Thai-style kaiju" and costumed superhero movies made in the 1970s and '80s by producer-director Sompote Sands, a.k.a. Sompote Sangduenchai.

Sompote studied cinematography in the 1960s in Japan, where he made contact with Eiji Tsubaraya, the special-effects artist who came up with the idea of putting a man in a rubber suit to play Godzilla, and whose Tsuburaya Productions was behind the Ultraman series.

With his Chaiyo Productions, Sompote entered into a deal to co-produce two films with Tsuburaya -- Giant and Jumbo A and Hanuman and the 7 Ultramen, which teamed up the Japanese heroes with the mythical characters from the Ramakien, Thailand's epic version of the Ramayana.

A third film, Hanuman and the 5 Riders was intended as a co-production with Toei, which the Japanese studio refused to sign off on, but Sompote went ahead and made it anyway.

Ultimately, as a result of misunderstanding or just Sompote doing whatever he wanted, Chaiyo Productions claimed it was the creator of Ultraman and went about selling all kinds of Ultraman merchandise. That resulted in a 10-year legal battle between Tsuburaya and Chaiyo that was only resolved last year, with the result that -- surprise -- Ultraman is Japanese, not Thai.

But there was so much more to Sompote Sands than his claims to Ultraman.

He also directed a 1979 Hollywood B-movie called Crocodile, parts of which were recycled for later films like Krai-Thong and Krai-Thong II.

Here's a summary of 4DK's 10-part series, with key excerpts:

  • Thai-style Kaiju: The Films of Sompote Sands Part I -- Tah Tien (1973) -- "Tah Tien starts with a giant snake emerging from the ocean and vomiting an egg onto the beach. A giant suitmation frog then swallows the egg, becomes violently ill, vomits the egg back up, and then dies. The egg explodes and a beautiful, fully dressed, grown woman emerges. Seeing the dead frog, she enters its body in spectral form and saunters off down the beach. Then things start to get weird."
  • Thai-style Kaiju: The films of Sompote Sands Part II -- King-ka Kayasit (1980s) -- "It seems that the idea with King-ka Kayasit was to dress a man up in a Frill-necked Lizard costume and film him in whatever scenarios could be thought up on the fly, and then to try and impose some kind of narrative structure upon the result by inserting footage from previous Chaiyo productions into the mix."
  • Thai-style Kaiju: The films of Sompote Sands Part III -- The Noble War (mid to late 1980s) -- "With it's large cast of characters, assorted intrigues and back-story rooted in a complex mythology, The Noble War is near impossible to make sense of without either an understanding of the Thai language or subtitles. (I had neither, hence the very truncated plot summary.) Still, many might find pleasure in viewing it as simply a trippy ambient piece. Its wash of lurid colors and menagerie of strange creatures certainly fit the bill in that regard."
  • Thai-style Kaiju: The films of Sompote Sands Part IV -- Giant and Jumbo A (1974) -- "Given that it is, to such a great extent, a highlights reel of Jumborg Ace, Giant and Jumbo A doesn't leave much room for the usual infusions of sleaze and weirdness that would mark it indelibly as being a Sompote Sands' production. There are, for example, no extended skinny-dipping sequences or instances of child murder. Still, the film does deliver up frenetic kaiju battling action from start to finish, disjointed and incoherent though it may be, and as such offers a lot to enjoy for indiscriminate monster fans such as yours truly."
  • Thai-style Kaiju: The films of Sompote Sands Part V -- Hanuman and the 5 Riders (1970s) -- "Fortunately for him, a Japanese feature had already been produced featuring all five of the Kamen Riders, enabling Sands, as he already had with both Giant and Jumbo A and Hanuman and the 7 Ultramen, to liberally pad his own film with pre-existing Japanese footage, saving a fortune on costumes, sets and special effects in the process. ... The result is that Hanuman and the 5 Riders is a queasy amalgamation of colorful kiddie sci fi adventure and perversely lurid downscale sleaze."
  • Thai-Style Kaiju: (The horrible return of) the films of Sompote Sands Part VI -- Krai-Thong (198?) -- "Krai-Thong introduces said rubbery reptile in a sequence that I like to think of as 'The Crocodile on Tour', because it features the crocodile methodically travelling down river and, along the way, popping up at various points in the village to chomp on people."
  • Thai-Style Kaiju: The films of Sompote Sands Part VII -- Yod Manut Computer / aka Computer Superman (1977) -- "With newfound purpose, Tail Boy does that -- ch ch ch ch ch ch ch! -- slow-motion-means-fast-motion $6m man run back to the village, where he gathers up Ear Boy, Hand Boy and Snot Boy to do battle against the interlopers. And that's as much of a plot summary of Yod Manut Computer as you're going to get out of me."
  • Thai-Style Kaiju: The films of Sompote Sands Part VIII -- Phra Rot-Meri (1981) -- "Holy fuck, Sompote Sands! I knew this one was going to be weird from the outset, but I really didn't see the graphic baby eating and man-boob suckling coming. You have once again managed to completely fucking freak me out. And I hadn't even yet mentioned the scene where a kid is shown taking a crap and the camera then zooms in for a lingering close-up on the resultant turd. Holy fuck, Sompote Sands!"
  • Thai-style Kaiju: The films of Sompote Sands Part IX -- Pandin Wippayoke (1978) -- "Despite this being a somewhat sleepy rural melodrama, there was no mistaking it as [anything other than] a Chaiyo production, for, within scant minutes of the fadeout of the opening credits, we've seen one character land face first in a huge pile of crap, and another get his face pissed on by a water buffalo."
  • Thai-style Kaiju: The films of Sompote Sands Part X -- Krai-Thong II (1985) -- "Clearly the lesson that Sands learned from the first Krai-Thong’s success was that his audience loved to see crocodile attacks, and so, with Krai-Thong II, he decided to reward that audience for their support with a film that included almost nothing but. It’s quite funny until it starts to become repetitive, and then it becomes so repetitive that it becomes funny again."

And that's more than a year's worth of hard work, boiled down into bullet items.

There's also Chunky Monkey, which links to Todd's review of Hanuman and the 7 Ultramen (1974) at Teleport City and serves as an introduction to the whole series.

Todd reviewed all these movies (except for Krai-Thong) without benefit of English subtitles -- a feat I don't think I've got in me to ever attempt. But perhaps he came away with a greater appreciation for the films because of that. Certainly the reviews are informative and entertaining -- probably more entertaining than the films themselves.


  1. His reviews are infinitely more entertaining than the movies themselves. Thanks for the summary -- I haven't read some of the series yet, and you've just made it easy to fill in the gaps.

  2. Thanks, Wise Kwai! I know I have a fondness for comic exaggeration, but, in all honesty, this series was a bit exhausting for me. Kind tribute such as yours makes the effort worthwhile.


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