Friday, August 10, 2012

Kom Akkadej, a full appreciation

Payak Likay

Yesterday's news of the passing of film-industry titan Kom Akkadej brought sadness to many fans of old-time Thai cinema.

I recalled meeting Kom at the Phuket Film Festival in 2010, where around six or seven people turned out for the screening of The Mountain Lion, a rousing action flick starring Sorapong Chatree and Jarunee Suksawat. It was a VCD or DVD copy of an old worn-out VHS master. Kom sat at the back of the auditorium with a few of his hard-core Thai fans and regaled them with stories of making the film. I spoke with him only briefly afterward, and was saddened to learn that most of his films haven't survived. Some negatives were stored for a time at processing labs in Hong Kong, but when they ran out of storage space, Kom's films "were pushed into the sea".

Another bereaved fan is James Marshall, who submitted the following guest post.

Enter the Coliseum – Kom Akkadej

Story by James Marshall

On the morning of Thursday, August 9, 2012, Kom Akkadej went to the Coliseum multiplex cinema he owned in Surat Thani for a normal days work. Everything seemed fine until he suddenly had a heart attack and died. He had no real history of heart disease, there were no warning signs at all according to his wife. It came as a shock to everyone. Although he was 64 years old, he was a picture of health.

In Thailand, most people of a certain age know his name but they don’t know his work, they just know he was a film director. Even the newspapers seemed to know very little as they had two or four lines in English saying "he was a director, he died". I assume the Thai language media did a little better, but for what it’s worth, here is a proper piece on him with some proper information in English language.

Kom started out as an actor in romantic films sometime in the early 1970s. The films included Preungnee Chan Ja Rak Koon (Tomorrow I Will Love You, 1972 ) and Krai Ja Rong Hai Pue Chan ("Who will cry for me?", 1974 ). He wasn’t so keen on the romances though. In his heart he was an action man. In 1974 he got a part in the action film Tida Payayom (Daughter of the God of Death) and there was no turning back.

Really, he wanted to be an action film director and so he founded Coliseum films in late 1974. In March 1975 his first film Plan Kreung Sood Tai (Rob the Last Time) was released.

Over the next few years he became one of the most popular directors in the country and a man of some import as he served as the head of the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand, which led to him visiting other countries tending to his duties. This led to him having an international eye on the movie industry and he made some of the best action films Thailand has ever seen including Pao Kon (Lay Down and Fire, 1976) starring Sombat Metanee and Sooa Pookow (Tiger Mountain, 1979).

In 1982 he managed to perform a real coup by getting two of the legends of Hong Kong action cinema, Norman Tsui Siu Keung and David Chiang Dai Wai of the Shaw Brothers studio to star in two of his films. Pet Tat Yok (Diamond Cuts Jade) saw Tsui as a Chinese man in Thailand who had to square off against Sorapong Chatree, and Payak Likay (Cruel Tiger of Likay) saw Tsui as the villain and Chiang as Sorapong’s heroic sidekick. This film also has the status of being the earliest known work of a young enthusiastic stuntman named Panna Rittikrai. He went on to become the mentor of Tony Jaa.

Sadly, Thai audiences got bored of Thai action deciding instead to watch clowns and ghosts. Kom moved into television, adapated Pet Tat Yok and Payak Likay for TV and later producing some original shows. He also opened his successful chain of cinemas in the South of Thailand.

The majority of the films Kom's Coliseum studio are unavailable today. A few that were released on video and VCD in the past are available as bootlegs if you know the right people. I have a few, but most of the older films are impossible to find. Only his last movie Lob Pee Pee Mai Lob (Ghost Doesn’t Want To Be Seen, 2003) is easily available. The majority of his work is sadly lost to the sands of time.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Akkadej once in 2010 at his office near Ramkamhang in Bangkok. At the time I had only seen three of his films and I had always meant to go back and interview him once I knew more about them, but since they remained so hard to find, I never did get back.

When I asked him how he got David Chiang and Norman Tsui to be in his films his simple response with a grin – "I asked them". He was a very matter-of-fact person who didn’t mince his words. I am sad to say that all that remains of his old films were a few photos and trailers he kept at his office, he didn’t retain the original elements of any of them. He didn’t even have copies of the films or any posters. But he shared his trailers and photos with me freely and still laughed at his own work.

I took my posters of Pet Tat Yok and Payak Lee Gey to ask for his autograph to which he was rather shocked as even he didn’t have the posters. He asked me where I got them and how much I paid and were they real or copies? As he signed them he commented that I am the only person who asked for his autograph. I don’t know if he was being sarcastic. I didn’t ask for a photo with him as I planned to do that when I interviewed him. I shall be kicking myself about that forever more.

He was a very open and friendly man who was like a kid who never grew up. Working in entertainment was his playground and he seemed to enjoy it very much.  Despite not knowing me and never having met me before, he gave me his time generously and he with the help of his English speaking assistant answered my silly questions and even took the time to hand write a list of every film he could remember making with titles and dates. I can’t stress enough how nice he was.

As with many others, he was a good filmmaker who deserved a lot more respect and recognition than he ever received and didn’t deserve to be cast aside and forgotten as he has been. He will be remembered by many as "that director who made films we never saw", which is sad as judging from what little is left of his work he was one of the best directors Thailand ever had.

There is a memorial service being held for him today (Friday, August 10) at Wat Tatong on Sukhumvit Road next to Ekamai BTS station at 5pm. Please feel free to come if you can and say a last farewell to one of Thailand’s forgotten sons.

James Marshall is an Englishman who is an Asian film expert and historian who currently resides in Bangkok where he is working hard on writing a book about Thai movies. More news on that soon.

Pao Kon (Lay Down and Fire, 1976)

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