Sunday, August 8, 2010

Apichatpong-a-rama: Meet the real Uncle Boonmee

Patrick Winn of the Global Post caught up with actor Thanapat Saisaymar, who played the title role in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cannes Golden Palm winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

Here's a bit from "A darling at Cannes, a field hand in Thailand":

Thanapat is the son of rice farmers. His jobs over the last 12 months include roof welder, actor and plantation hand — in that order. He now lives outside Bangkok with his wife and small child on a fruit farm, which he tends for less than $250 a month.

His $5,300 take-home pay for Uncle Boonmee was enough to buy a home in his native Si Sa Ket, a farming province in Thailand’s poor northeast. It was instead spent on partying friends, an ailing mother’s medical bills and a second-hand European car, which has since broken down.

“I basically spent it all during Songkran,” he said, referring to a boisterous week-long Thai new year’s festival in April. So little was left from that splurge that Thanapat was back in the fields by the time Uncle Boonmee screened the next month at Cannes.

“Even now, I’m back on a fruit farm because there’s no acting work,” he said. “At least my boss is nice. He’ll let me leave if I land a part.”

Read the whole thing to find out how hard Apichatpong had to push him. Winn also has a followup photo of Thanapat.

Meanwhile, Apichatpong was recently interviewed by Gridthiya Gaweewong, the artistic director of the Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok for Art It magazine. With questions longer than the answers, the sprawling interview, "From the Forest to the Bangkok Streets", covers Apichatpong's entire career, including his first feature, Mysterious Object at Noon, as well as his many shorts and art projects. Here's a bit:

ART iT: For the past 10 years you have been making both feature films and video art installations. You are one of only a few artists in Southeast Asia who work across such disciplines. And it seems that you often choose to blur the lines between art and film, especially in your short pieces, which can both be screened in a cinema and in a gallery context. Why did you decide to work in this direction?

AW: For me, both filmmaking and art echo each other. The subjects of my works usually revolve around the ideas of duality and transformation, and I feel that this carries over into my methodology as well, whereby I attempt to transform cinema by taking it outside of the theater.

In my works the themes of duality and transformation variously appear in both content and structure. For example, I might explore the dualities of darkness and light, man and animal, or even the idea of a film with a split personality. In terms of transformation, the characters in my works might undergo a change from one identity to another. This could happen on a metaphoric, social level, but sometimes it is also a physical change - like a man becoming a monk, or a tiger, or a kick-ass heroine, or a Monkey Ghost, and so on.

Read the rest for Apichatpong's answer on "Hollywood" approaching him to direct a big-budget movie and his wishes that a Thai cinematheque be built in Chiang Mai, not Bangkok, because Thailand's capital city will soon be underwater. "That's what I believe," he says.

Apichatpong's work is included in this year's sixth edition of Media City Seoul, Trust, at various venues in Seoul from September 7 to November 17.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives has extended its run in Bangkok. It was scheduled to end on July 25, but has continued playing due to audience demand. It moved this week from SFX the Emporium over to SF Cinema City MBK.

On Thursday, July 11, Uncle Boonmee opens in Apichatpong's boyhood hometown of Khon Kaen. But it won't be playing at the Prince or any other of the Northeastern city's grand old movie palaces where Joei grew up watching films. They've all been demolished. It'll be playing at the fairly new SF branch in Khon Kaen.

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