Saturday, January 21, 2006

Why the Thai film industry stinks

Yesterday was a bonus day for Thai film directors in the Bangkok English-language press. Not only did the Bangkok Post have an interview with Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, ThaiDay had one with Apichatpong Weerasethakul. He talked about his new film, Intimacy and Turbulence, which is being made as part of celebrations for Mozart's 250th birthday. He also talks about the Thai film industry, why Thai actors don't develop as well as actors from other countries, the malaise of Thai society and -- penises.

Of Intimacy and Turbulence, he says the only requirement for Vienna’s financial support is that the core story reflects the composer’s identity. "I don't want to use Mozart's music, as I'm not a classical music fan. But I feel that Mozart's music talks about reincarnation – it looks ahead to the future world with the knowledge of the past world. This is something that hit my heart, so I picked it as a theme. Mozart also talked about magic and mystery. So I say having an ordinary life is magic. I will use my memories of my parents, who are doctors at Khon Kaen Hospital, to supply the story."

"Not many movies, especially Thai movies, talk about ordinary life. I want to see something different happen here. Creating movies about violence is easy – and it can sell, as people are interested in conflict and disaster. But the thing is, I have never experienced the kind of violence that’s in the movies. I want to create something different from other films, but it will also have to match my interests."

"Thai society is very materialistic nowadays. The simplicity of life is gone. There is no calm. No one looks inside the mind. It’s not that people don’t want to, but they forget to, since there are other things to arouse them ..."

On Thai actors:

"I want actors who are not shy toward the camera. They must be themselves, and natural, and not worry that someone is watching them ... I let them improvise. Like this new movie – if there is enough time, I would like to improvise the whole movie. But then, that depends on the budget as well ...
"Unknown actors tend to have more time for the movie, as they don’t have to spare time for television shows, soap operas or other movies. They will have the time to learn to work with the team. They don’t have to worry about the schedule and the money they’re making.

"Thai actors are not so professional, because of the system here. Thailand is a small country and actors also have to be MCs, they have to do this and that. So it is difficult to develop their abilities and skills. It’s not like Julia Roberts, who really has time to spend with her scripts. That’s why our country lacks professional actors."

On experimental film:

"What experimental film gives is freedom. You feel happy after you walk out of the cinema. You want to continue breathing. You have inspiration to try new things, which is something that our country needs – not just for movies, but for everything. Because we have always had things handed down. There has been no opportunity to be creative. Everybody follows everybody, so nothing is exciting.

"Thai movies are now very boring, as they share a certain pattern of thought. Even Hollywood is more creative. With Thai movies, everything is ready-made to the point that I wonder what space is left for creativity."

On Thai society:

"Both mass-market and independent movies must, at the very least, enrich the mind. I don’t see any creativity in the mere attempt to sell. And it is very scary that the government is pushing materialistic policies. The simple pleasures, which don’t require money, have been ignored. TV is full of commercials. Why? Is it because the producers depend on advertising revenue in order to survive, or because the producers are greedy? I don’t know. But it seems that this happens in many parts of society. Kids have nowhere to go. Parks are boring – they have loudspeakers and there’s always new construction. So, then, maybe it’s better to go to department stores. But everywhere is loud. I'm afraid that new generation will be afraid of silence. People tend to appreciate silence less and less. It is so hard to live in this society ...

"Our country needs to find a balance between traditional and new things. There is not much left that can be sold. Creativity is like solar energy. It could shine at any time during our lifetime. It should be applied while the ancient tourist destinations are getting rotten. Visitors will not keep coming to the Grand Palace. The oceans are already dirty. Movies are among of the new things that need financial support.

"In Hong Kong, if you take your short film to make a DVD in the Motion Center, they suggest which festival you should send your film to. They help to facilitate it. At least I want our country to have such a center and it should be quite independent – not like, 'the movie can't show a penis, as it will make the country look bad.' Don't the committee members have penises? It is human.

"The authorities like to claim that people are starving, so why should they need to invest in the arts? They need to look at the long term. Do they want to see people have crude minds? Good art is like religion: it helps people look into themselves. And that helps every part of society, including the economy.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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