|The Rocket director Kim Mordaunt, Lotus Award honoree Jarunee Suksawat and World Film Festival of Bangkok director Victor Silakong. Via the Nation.|
In the late 1970s and early '80s, one actress dominated the Thai big screen – Jarunee Suksawat.
In an era when 120 Thai films were being made each year, she was appearing in perhaps 100 of them, says Kriengsak "Victor" Silakong, director of the World Film Festival of Bangkok, which this year honors Jarunee with the Lotus Award for lifetime achievement.
Victor recalls going to see her movies when he was a youngster. "She was the star of Thailand. The whole country was crazy about her," he says.
While still in her teens, she made her debut in 1977's Sawasdee Khun Kroo, according the festival's catalog. She was catapulted into the spotlight later that year when she was cast in Rak Laew Raw Noi opposite the era's most popular leading man, Sorapong Chatree.
With her tomboyish looks, the young starlet was a natural for action flicks, and for a time she reigned as Thailand's "action movie queen".
Among the films from this period was 1979's The Mountain Lion (Sua Poo Khao), a romp through the hills directed by Kom Akadej and also starring Sorapong. She even donned the red mask as a vigilante crimefighter for an Insee Daeng flick.
However, her breakthrough as a dramatic actress came in 1980 in the film adaptation Baan Sai Thong, a sweeping story of class conflict that's also been depicted in countless TV series. Victor calls it "our Gone with the Wind."
Directed by Ruj Ronnapop, Jarunee portrays a young woman from a poor background who arrives at a wealthy family's mansion to claim her inheritance, setting off a struggle for power.
Baan Sai Thong was a record-breaking hit in its day and is still regarded as one of the best of the many adaptations of the story.
Jarunee again took the lead in the sequel, Pojjaman Sawangwong, in which she's assumed control of the estate, but family members are plotting behind her back.
Jarunee's popularity and heavy workload took a toll. She was injured in accidents while working on a movie in 1985 and faded from the scene as she struggled with health and financial problems.
Raised by her grandmother, she never knew her father and took her stepfather's surname.
It wasn't until around 13 years ago that she tracked down her dad, just before he died. He was a Frenchman named Ferdinand Desneiges, and until she made contact, he never knew he had a Thai daughter.
Having proved her biological relationship, Jarunee, now 51, took the name Caroline Desneiges and today devotes most of her time to running a health products company, Thaidham Alliance.
But she still takes the occasional acting role, most memorably playing one of the three titular ladies of action in Nonzee Nimibutr's 2008 high-seas swashbuckler, Queens of Langkasuka, aka Puenyai Jom Salad or Tsunami Warrior.
As part of its Lotus Award tribute to Jarunee, the World Film Festival of Bangkok will screen both Baan Sai Thong and Pojjaman Sawangwong, with the first film showing on November 18 at 8.30pm and November 23 at 3.30. The sequel screens at 8.40pm on November 19 and 6pm on November 22, all at the festival venue, SF World Cinema at CentralWorld.
(Cross-published in The Nation)