- Directed by Leo Kittikorn
- Starring Nadech Kugimiya, Oranate D Caballes
- Released in Thai cinemas on April 4, 2013; rated G.
- Wise Kwai's rating: 2/5
Koo Kam (คู่กรรม), the story of star-crossed romance during World War II in Bangkok, has been made for the big screen and television perhaps dozens of times. There's probably an adaptation that remains true to the novel that's also compelling to watch.
Unfortunately, I've only seen one – the version of Koo Kam that's on Bangkok big screens right now. So I really have no idea how it compares to the earlier versions. But I can't imagine it holds up very well.
Directed by "Leo" Kittikorn Liawsirikun and produced by M-Thirtynine, the production of Koo Kam reportedly cost 35 million baht (not including the 20 million baht for marketing) and looked to be the most ambitious effort yet by the still-fledgling studio, which has made a mint on its year-end romantic comedies.
And Koo Kam at times does have an epic feel, with wartime explosions, including a CGI-assisted bombing of Bangkok's historic Memorial Bridge (it was an intended target of an actual Allied bombing raid in 1944, but the B-29s missed). There's also scenes with a hundred or so extras, such as a wedding and times when the Japanese troops are boarding the steam train to head for the Burmese border. Slick stylization spices things up during key action scenes.
But mostly this new Koo Kam has the hermetic, Thai-TV-series feel of M-Thirtynine's extremely profitable and extremely dumb small-budget comedies. It also suffers from a dull and dragging pace, especially toward the end.
And the score doesn't help either. The same two or three intrusive cues of piano or electronic-keyboard orchestra are used over and over. The score is put too high in the mix and robs all scenes of what little life they had.
Well known to most Thais, Koo Kam is the story of a Japanese officer named Kobori who falls in love with a fiercely independent young Thai woman named Angsumalin. She turns out to be helping the Free Thai resistance.
Koo Kam's earlier adaptations include a series that's on Thai TV right now, starring "Bie" Sukrit Wisetkaew and "Noona" Nuengthida Sophon, which National Artist author Thommayanti herself has declared to be the definitive version. A famous movie version was 1996's Sunset at Chaophraya by GMM Pictures (the only version to officially have that title), starring Thongchai "Bird" McIntyre and Apasiri Nitibhon and directed by Euthana Mukdasanit. Apparently a true epic for its day, 50 million baht was spent to make it.
But Leo Kittikorn's Koo Kam basically boils things down to the relationship between the officer Kobori, played by Thai TV-and-commercials heartthrob Nadech Kumikaya, and Angsumalin, new-face actress Oranate "Richy" D Caballes.
Like a sitcom, it starts out cute, funny and full of energy. For just a little bit, it fooled me into thinking I might be charmed by this version of Koo Kam.
A young Japanese engineering officer, Kobori is working at the navy yard when he spies Angsumalin lurking around in the water by the docks. He tries, ineptly, to introduce himself to the bathing beauty, but Ang will have none of it and tells him no uncertain terms to leave her alone.
Kobori persists though, finds out where Ang lives and tracks her down to an old-timey colonial-style Thai mansion on an orchard neighboring the navy yard. For a brief instance, the girl's frowny little mouth turns right side up, showing that perhaps she likes the goofy Kobori just a little bit, and she tries to clue him in that maybe he shouldn't walk through the orchard at night.
Various entanglements thrust the two together, like destiny. The dorky Japanese officer's efforts to charm Angsumalin don't stop. He annoyingly gives her a Japanese name, Hideko, and tries to make teriyaki for her and her mother. I wanted to scream at Kobori "her name's not Hideko!" Or at least have Angusmalin scream it.
Meanwhile, the girl's estranged father, who is a muckety-muck of some sort in the Thai government, thinks it might be a good idea if Angsumalin and Kobori got married, as a sign of the strong Thai-Japanese alliance. Of course, the wily Thai politician is also using the marriage to further blind Kobori and his superiors that the Thais aren't really doing anything at all to aid the Japanese war effort or hinder the resistance.
So the relationship between Angsumalin and Kobori is bit like Colonel Klink and Hogan on Hogan's Heroes, in which Kobori turns a blind eye to Ang's resistance activities as long has she'll love him. She doesn't and apparently never will. But she'll throw him a bone every once in awhile if it'll keep him off her back. But he doesn't stay off.
A curious choice that weakens the film is the decision to go for the G general-audience rating instead of the censors' spicier 18+ or 15+, making the climactic wedding-night scene for Kobori and Angsumalin a huge anti-climax. Fans hoping to see a shirtless Nadech, like Mario Maurer in Jan Dara, will be disappointed by a clumsy scene of drunken grappling, Nadech's blurry shoulder blades and an awkward morning-after apology to Ang.
A more-interesting choice was the casting of the ingenue Richy Oranate as Angsumalin. A Chiang Mai native plucked from the relative obscurity of the Thai national badminton squad to make her debut as an actress, she was intriguing to watch during the scenes early on when she determinedly rebuffs Kobori's advances. She reminded me of another frequent M-Thirtynine player, the prolific young actress Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, or perhaps Kristin Stewart, and Richy really made me believe she hated Kobori.
Later, Angsumalin has a change of heart, spurning her long-haired rock-star resistance-agent boyfriend, and she decides too late and too melodramatically to pour out her romantic feelings to Kobori. Then Richy reminded me of another M-Thirtynine regular, "Gypso" Ramita Mahapreukpong, an inexplicably popular actress and TV personality who irks me for reasons I can't put my finger on other than she always seems to come across as fake or affected in some way.
As for Nadech's performance, I guess he's fine as the lovable tortured idiot Kobori. He'll continue to rake in the dough, doing TV dramas, commercials and endorsements of every product under the sun.
Koo Kam follows the current trend of remakes of popular old classics, with other recent regurtitations being ML Bhandevanov Devakula's sex-filled but oddly boring two-part reworking of The Story of Jan Dara, starring Mario Maurer, and the GTH studio's insanely popular and entertaining Pee Mak Phra Khanong, a romantic-comedy twist on the Mae Nak Phra Khanong ghost story that also stars Mario.
The box office shows where the Thai audience's preferences are – Pee Mak is nearing the record-breaking 550-million-baht mark or has possibly already surpassed it depending on how the beans are counted, while Koo Kam, released just a week after Pee Mak, has been clobbered and is struggling to break even.
Oh, and another thing or two, fans of Thommayanti's novel have reportedly criticized this version for its contemporized language. Historical purists have knocked the production as well, pointing out such minutia as a water slug on a boat that didn't exist in Thailand back in the 1940s. I can't speak to those things. However, I appreciated the decision to go with a soundtrack that's about half Thai and half Japanese. In most cinemas, the film was released with Thai subtitles for the Japanese and English bits, however Paragon Cineplex had a version with English subtitles. So thanks M-Thirtynine, for making it possible for me to see your film and trash it. As much as I grew to hate watching it, I've enjoyed the chance to see the story and write about it.