Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Another look at Chua Fah Din Salai and Eternity: Director's Cut
Characters are literally and figuratively fleshed out in ML Bhandevanob "Mom Noi" Devakula's director's cut of his lush-period potboiler Eternity (Chua Fah Din Salai, ชั่วฟ้าดินสลาย).
Running for 3 hours and 10 minutes – an hour longer than September's original theatrical release – the director's cut adds scenes that reinforce the main characters and make clearer their motivations. And the supporting characters are more vividly depicted.
Of course there is more sex and nudity. The director's cut is rated 18+, whereas the original commercial release was a comparatively watered-down 15+.
Based on the 1943 novella by Malai Choopinit, the story is set, I believe, in the early 1930s, on a timber plantation in Burma. The land is owned by a logging baron named Pabo (Teerapong Leowrakwong), who has built an elaborate teakwood mansion where he lives and rules like a king. Pabo's nephew is Sangmong, played Ananda Everingham. He's a highly educated and contemplative young man. And there's Pabo's young wife, the cultured and vivacious Bangkok socialite Yupadee. The love triangle forms when the nephew and his young auntie enter into their affair. They are found out and sentenced by Pabo to spend their lives chained together, "for eternity".
It's a lavishly made film, with beautiful period costuming and props, sumptuous set dressing and locations and gorgeous cinematography. Just for those things alone, it's easy to get swept away by it all.
There are Mom Noi's trademark high-brow literary and theatrical references. I'm not sure how many movie-goers will understand or even make a beeline for the library or bookstore to try and figure things out. The references to Ibsen and Gibran are perhaps pretentious, but then maybe I should be reading more and not watching so many movies.
Breathtaking as Eternity is, by now my memory of what was in the original release compared to this version is foggy.
But one scene that stands out is a visit to a brothel by Sangmong and Tip, the logging camp foreman. While Tip, portrayed by 1980s heartthrob Sakkaraj Rerkthamrong, indulges himself with prostitute, Sangmong does not. He flashes back to his childhood and remembers Uncle Pabo telling him to not pick a wild orchid – the flower being highly symbolic of you know what. This scene reinforces Sangmong's pure heart, and the fact that he doesn't drink or smoke, and is saving sex for when he's married.
Tip, on the other hand, indulges in sex constantly, not only with the prostitute, but with one of the servants at Pabo's mansion, presumably a woman who was one of Pabo's interests, but was handed down to the loyal right-hand man Tip. And one night Sangmong spies on Tip having sex with his girlfriend, and this stirs feelings inside Sangmong, and leads to the breaking down of his resistance against the lustful feelings he has for Yupadee.
Another character who's greatly expanded is that of Nipon, portrayed by newcomer actor Penpetch Benyakul. He's the visitor to the timber plantation in 1943, years after the disastrous affair of Sangmong and Yupadee. It's Nipon's visit that gets Tip to flashback, telling the whole sordid story. There's more scenes of Nipon having sex with a servant girl, and he has a bizarre encounter with the disheveled Sangmong.
Overall, the symbolism seems more overt, such as the shotgun barrels probing through the jungle while Tip and his men hunt for a tiger at the same moment Sangmong and Yupadee have their first explosive sexual encounter.
In watching the director's cut, another thing that struck me was just how poorly the female characters fare.
Yupadee is objectified and sexualized from the moment she hits the screen, slinking down the stairway of the Bangkok club in her tight satin evening gown. She is a temptress, naked in the pool, goading Sangmong into the act of betrayal against his uncle. She has corrupted the young man, who takes up drinking and smoking. Later, when she and Sangmong are chained together, Yupadee is a weak, whining, shrewlike nag.
Pabo's loyal maid Makin, portrayed by Daraneenuch Pothipithi, is a conflicted character. She clearly loves Pabo and has motherly affection for Sangmong. She is initially distrustful of Yupadee, but warms up to her after Yupadee uses her convent-school nursing skills to treat Makin for a snake bite. She's the one who tattles on the couple for the affair, and Pabo severely beats her. That was a difficult scene to watch.
One more thing: It's hard not to get cynical over this film and all its sex and nudity – however tastefully done it might be – getting the green light for a limited theatrical run while Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's Insects in the Backyard has been labeled pornographic and is banned. If Chua Fah Din Salai dealt with a homosexual affair would it have also been banned?
Chua Fah Din Salai: Director's Cut runs until January 5 at House on RCA, showing on Blu-ray DVD with English subtitles.