Saturday, April 1, 2006

Review: Nong Teng Nak Leng Phukhao Thong

  • Directed by Panitch Sodsi
  • Starring Pongsak Pongsuwan, Choosak Eamsuwan, Isaree Soungcharern, Nikalaya Dhunlaya
  • Released in Thailand theaters on March 29, 2006

The new Thai comedy, Nong Teng Nak Leng Phukhao Thong, looks great and has a noble concept - going back into Thai cinema history to 1923 when the first feature film was being made in Thailand (then Siam). Directed by Canadian filmmaker Henry MacRae, with Dal Clawson as director of photography, Miss Suwanna of Siam was a co-production by Universal and Royal State Railway Film Service. The eight-reel romance starred Sa-ngaim Naveesatien as Suwanna and Ram Projtasart as her hero.

Using this backdrop, and creating a vibrant set for 1920s Bangkok, complete with a working tram, Nong Teng Nak Leng Phukhao Thong (literally, Nong and Teng, the Golden Mount Gangsters) is interesting and funny for about the first 15 minutes or so, but like so many Thai comedies, it has a weak script that only serves to string together a succession of skits and slapstick.

Well, what can you expect from Pongsak Pongsuwan (aka Theng Therdtheng) and Choosak Eamsuwan (aka Nong Cherm-Yim) - two top television comedians, starring in the first feature film from Work Point, a TV production firm? Indeed, there are moments when they break character and crack up - not unlike a Saturday Night Live skit. So scenes that should be on a goofs reel at the end of the movie or on the DVD extras are caught on film. But maybe that's part of the charm of the whole thing.

Mainly, I suspect, the movie is simply a move to capitalize on last year's success of The Holy Man, which Theng starred in and was one of the top Thai box-office draws last year.

It's not like Theng and Nong are total losers that make the thing unwatchable, though. Theng, who played Elvis M-16 in Killer Tattoo, has been around long enough to know what to do, and he as some decent scenes as his character falls in love with the pretty star actress of Nong Sao Suwan (Nikalaya Dhunlaya). Nong, meanwhile, looks like he's have a blast getting to ham it up as a thug who has a penchant for flourishing his shiny Colt revolver and firing it into the air. It must've been a relief for him after having to play it more or less straight in Pattaya Maniac and Beautiful, Wonderful, Perfect (I'll only mention Werewolf in Bangkok in passing).

Theng portrays a player in a family likay (Thai traditional theater) troupe. With the new cinemas opening up, likay is struggling to keep its audience. And Theng (who looks great in likay costume) is struggling to stay in character as the hero in the play, as two rascals in the audience are talking and creating a disturbance. The troupe quickly cuts to the fight scene to keep the audience interested, but then the fight scene spills over into the audience. Nong saves the day by firing his gun into the air and scaring off the rascals - but he's not as tough as he acts. Also, he has a weakness for Theng's sister, Lynchee (Isaree Soungcharern), getting a nose bleed while watching her on stage and seeing her costume slip a bit to reveal a small amount of cleavage.

Eventually, it comes out that the likay troupe and the surrounding squatter community is to be thrown off its land to make way for the filming of Miss Suwanna, which doesn't really make sense to them, or to me. But really, it's just an excuse for a land grab by the greedy cinema owner - who's also the father of Miss Suwanna's star - to build a new theater.

Theng and Nong and the rest of troupe then embark on a bumbling quest to disrupt the production, to no discernable effect. At one point, one of the troupe steals a case thought to hold a camera, but it only holds a brass megaphone. At another point, Theng rushes into a lotus pond to save the heroine in the film. He ruins the shot alright, but also ends up nearly drowning himself, only to get mouth-to-mouth from his friend Nong. Ick.

A few other notes:
  • An anachronism - The One-Armed Swordsman poster - a movie that wouldn't be made until nearly 50 years later - is big as life atop the movie theater.
  • Director Henry MacRae was Canadian. So why is he portrayed by a European (possibly Russian?) of undetermined nationality?
  • It wouldn't be a Thai comedy without a cameo by Petchtai Wongkamlao.
  • The best part of the film is when the credits roll, they show all existing the stills from the actual production of Miss Suwanna of Siam - all that's left of the film. It mysteriously disappeared shortly after it was made. So if anything, the DVD will be valuable as an archival DVD-ROM for Thai film historians.

More information:
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)