Saturday, January 26, 2008

Kongdej Jaturanrasamee: Thailand's 'king of romance'

Ahead of next month's opening of his new romantic drama Kod (Handle Me With Care), writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee talked with the Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee, for an interview in yesterday's Real Time section.

Kongdej is a sought-after "script doctor", one of the few in the Thai film industry. He did the screenplay for Tony Jaa's Tom Yum Goong ("without him the film would have been even worse," says Kong), last year's amnesiac transgender drama Me ... Myself and the adaptation of the hit comic book Noo Hin: The Movie. But it was his work on 2004's The Letter, the smash-hit Thai remake of the Korean weeper Pyeon ji, that sealed his reputation.

He tells Kong:

I wouldn't call myself a romantic person. Some of the romantic films I wrote happened to become successful with the audience - it started with The Letter - and people got this perception of me as someone who's an expert in love stories. But actually, I always see something else in the scripts I write. I see, for example, our search for security in life or the struggle to find our place on earth.

Aside from Handle Me With Care, Kongdej's other projects include the screenplay for Nonzee Nimibutr's upcoming seaborne fantasy, Queen of Langkasuka, and he's writing the sophomore directorial effort by Me ... Myself's Pongpat Wajirabunjong, a story of a dying woman called Happy Birthday.

It's been his own films where his central theme - the human struggle - really comes through. These are Sayew and the woefully underseen Midnight My Love.

Handle Me With Care is about a man (Kiatkamol Latha) with two left arms who's tired of trying to figure out what to do with the extra appendage and the misery it brings. So he hits the road, looking for a place to cut that third arm off.

Along the way, he meets Na, a woman who attracts a lot of unwanted attention because of her large breasts. She is played by curvy actress Supaksorn Chaimongkol, who's been cast in plenty of cheesecake roles, such as Chai Lai's Angels, Navy Boys and Andaman Girl. I last saw her in Mike B.'s stuntfest, Brave, and somewhere beneath the skin wig she wore when she was playing a Buddhist nun, well, I thought there was more there than meets the eye.

Back to Kong's story. In talking to the scriptwriter, Kong hits on themes he covered in a story elsewhere in Friday's Real Time, about the Thailand Script Project, and what it's like being a screenwriter in the Thai film industry. It ain't what it's cracked up to be. Kong explains:

To become a professional screenplay writer in Thailand is something of a feat in itself given the peculiar fact that a screenplay is probably the most undervalued element in the Thai filmmaking process. The lack of trusted and inspired writers means most filmmakers take on the dual role of writer/director, and while some of them carry their projects to success, the majority of poor-quality Thai films are the result of bad scripts. Film studios, meanwhile, decide to invest in movies based on genre (horror and comedy are priorities) and marketability (stars and hype factor) rather than quality or the originality of the scripts.

In others, writers are not properly respected. Written words are not as revered as visuals, or the ability to create visuals. This is a symptom of an immature film industry. As the ongoing Hollywood writers' strike show that scribes hold certain negotiating power with big studios, Thai screenwriters are often seen as dispensable.

Handle Me With Care opens in Thailand cinemas on February 21.

More information:

(Photo credit: Via Deknang forum; Kongdej Jaturanrasamee with his Best Screenplay Award from the 2006 Deauville Asian Film Festival.)

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