Thursday, April 3, 2008

Review: Ruen Pae (The Boat House)

  • Directed by Prince Phanuphan Yukol for the Asuwin Film Production company
  • Starring Maria Jang, So Asanajinda, Chaiya Suriyan, Jinfong
  • Released in 1962; available on DVD with English subtitles by Triple X Films.
  • Rating: 5/5

One of the two films selected for painstaking restoration by Technicolor Thailand and the National Film Archive, Ruen Pae (The Boat House) is considered a landmark in Thai cinema. It is a famous story that has been depicted on film at least twice, and the songs from the film are well known enough in Thai culture that folks who weren't even born when the first film was made will sing along to the title theme.

The story is about three guys and the woman who comes between them all. The men, all struggling in early adulthood, share a floating bamboo hut on the river. The woman, Penh (Maria Jang), is the daughter of the boys' landlord, and the likely fiancee of law student Jane (or how about Jayne?). The brash, alpha-male Kaew (Chaiya Suriyan) is a Muay Thai fighter. And there's Rin (Jinfong), a singer. All the guys have an eye on Penh, and Penh clearly adores the attentions of them all.

The four of them briefly share some happy days on their boat house, fixing it up. Jane and Penh paddle a boat around in the moonlight. Rin writes a song with Penh's help. Jane, Rin and Penh go to watch Keaw's boxing matches. Rin and Keaw good-naturedly taunt Jane.

One dark and stormy night, there is trouble, when wind knocks over a lantern and starts a fire in the boat house. Waves whip up and threaten to rip the house from its moorings. In the confusion of firefighting and wild weather, Penh ends up in the water, being carried away by the current. The heroic Kaew dives in after her. They are washed ashore. Kaew rips off his shirt to daub mud off Penh's face, his hands pause over her heaving chest. She comes to and looks at Kaew hovering over her. There is no turning back. The conflict of guilt and lust crosses over both their faces and they then embrace in a scene that is probably the iconic Thai equivalent of the beach kiss in From Here to Eternity. Kaew and Penh are madly in love. It's only a matter of time before Jane discovers them. And he does -- walks in on them in an embrace just as he's about to give Penh an engagement ring. Sure, he's hurt at first, but the principled Jane places their friendship above everything else -- he offers to give the ring to Kaew to give to Penh.

This arrangement won't sit with Penh's father, who disapproves of the low-class boxer Keaw. Things move pretty fast and before you know it, Penh is being married off to neither Keaw nor Jane. Keaw attacks the wedding, shooting a pistol. He becomes a fugitive and goes on the run as a "tiger" -- a bandit in the hills.

As the four from the boat house are scattered to the winds, the only one whose star is ascendant is Jane, who becomes a high-ranking officer on the police force.

Kaew, in the hills, runs into a rival band of bandits, and he and their leader, Hahn, fight it out by holding onto a rope and swinging knives at one another. They both end up stabbed, are laid up next to each other, wearing bandages, which leads to the following bit of dialogue:

Kaew (getting ready to take a pill, but then offers it to Hahn): Here, take it. One to kill the pain, one to prevent swelling.

Hahn: Leave me alone. This is no big deal. It's much worse if you're axed.

Kaew: I know you are tough, but why should you torture yourself? Please take it. At least it helps you with the wound. If you think I'm going to poison you, I'll take it. (Swallows pills) There. See?

Hahn: Can it really help with the swelling? I hate it when the wound swells.

After his songwriting encounter with the curvy Penh hunkering down on the floor with him in the boat house, Rin was never the same. Madly in love with the woman but too loyal to his friend Jane to do anything about it, he turns to alcohol and becomes an itinerant lounge singer. Things start looking up for him when a police officer who has a family band hires Rin as a teacher and conductor, and then helps Rin get a steady gig at a night club, where he'll follow the stripper. This makes Rin a part of the underworld that will eventually lead to his and Kaew's paths tragically reconverging, along with Jane, who has been dogged in his pursuit of Kaew.

Kaew, meanwhile, has continued to see Penh, who is haunted by her decision to choose Kaew over Jane.

The story arc and the action are the key to this film. A co-production between Thailand and Hong Kong (the bodacious lead actress and the male singer are from Hong Kong, and their voices seem very likely dubbed), the production values are quite good for a Thai film from this era. The action scenes are a bit frenzied, but they have a lot of scale, being filmed in some stunning locations -- on the edge of a cliff, one on a beach and another in a multi-tiered waterfall. The geography covers the length and breadth of Thailand, from Chiang Mai, down to Hua Hin, over to Lopburi. There's a thrilling daylight robbery of some barges on the river, and a shootout between the police and the tigers in which Kaew leads a daring escape.

The film transfer to DVD isn't as crisp as I've seen on other films. Still, the overall quality of the picture is clear. It's easy to see why this film was one of two chosen by the National Film Archive for restoration by Technicolor Thailand -- it's not a demoralizingly impossible task and it's a film well worth saving. (The other film was King of the White Elephant, the restoration of which has been completed and it was presented at last year's Phuket Film Festival.)

More information:


  1. Thanks! I wanted to find an english version of the series of events in this lakorn :)

  2. I think this movie is a classic. I would love to see it again. The current lakorn with Tono and Egg is hot too. I wonder if Kaew dies at the end? Hope not. It would be too sad.


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