Thursday, October 1, 2009

In Memoriam: Bhandit Rittakol

The last film he completed premiered the night before he died.

Veteran director Bhandit Rittakol, who had made a comeback in recent years and was working on continuing his run of success, died at around 11 this morning in Bangkok's Vajira Hospital. He was 58. The director had suffered heart and kidney diseases and diabetes. He was at the hospital receiving dialysis treatment when he had a heart attack.

The night before, Bhandit's latest and last film, Maha Nakorn premiered as the first segment in Sawasdee Bangkok, an anthology of nine shorts by well-known Thai directors. It was the closing film of the Bangkok International Film Festival. Though many of the directors were present for the world-premiere screening at Siam Paragon, he wasn't among them.

Starring Supakorn Kitsuwan and Intira Charoenpura as a pair of country bumpkins wandering around Bangkok taking photos of landmarks, Maha Nakorn highlighted the clash of rural and urban lifestyles in Thailand. It was a common theme that Bhandit had explored in many of his films, including the Boonchu series, which he had revived in 2008 and was doing pre-production and had finished casting for Boonchu 10 when he died.

According to The Nation, Five Star Production says it plans to continue with Boonchu 10. It will actually be the eighth in the franchise, which was popular in the 1980s and '90s. The series about a country boy's adventures in Bangkok skipped from Boonchu 2 to Boonchu 5 as a marketing gimmick. It was revived in 2008 with Boonchu 9, which was a box-office hit.

Earlier this year he released the teen romance A-Nueng Kidthueng Pen Yang Ying, which was a revival of his Miss You series, which were also popular in the ’90s.

Bhandit graduated from Assumption College and joined the staff at The Nation, then an upstart, activist newspaper in 1971. As a reporter, he covered the 1973 uprisings by democracy activists.

He later became a film critic and screenwriter, and directed his first movie, Khad Cheak, in 1984.

Among his well-regarded films is 1987's Duay Klao (The Seed), a drama that stars folksinger Jarun Manupetch as a farmer who nurtures a rice crop from a single seed he obtained from the Royal Ploughing Ceremony. A story of drought-hit farmers and opium-growing hilltribes, the movie was made to celebrate the 60th birthday of His Majesty the King and depicted many of the King's Royal Projects, including cloud-seeding and crop replacement. The movie had a revival run in 2006 to celebrate the King's 60th anniversary of accession.

Bhandit also contributed to a 2007 short-film anthology in celebration of the King's 80th birthday. The short revisited the cloud-seeding program, with a tale about a young reporter on assignment in a rural, drought-stricken village, who becomes stranded when the truck delivering water becomes stuck.

Bhandit’s 1995 drama, Once Upon a Time...This Morning (Kalla Krung Nueng...Muea Chao Nee), about how family problems affect children, was Thailand’s submission to the Academy Awards that year.

His 2001 film The Moonhunter (14 tula, songkram prachachon or 14 October: War of the People) drew on his beginnings as a reporter during the 1973 democracy movement, with a biographical drama on Seksan Prasertkul, one of the many student activists of that era who fled the capital and joined the communist rebels in northeastern Thailand. Although there was controversy over whether it would be censored because of its sensitive political nature, the film was released without cuts and was submitted to the Oscars.

Other films have included the the 2002 jungle adventure Tigress of King River, 2004's sci-fi drama Ukkabat (The Meteor) and 2006's swashbuckler The Magnificent Five.

Despite mounting health problems, Bhandit continued to work.

"What else I can do? Run a noodle shop?" the director was quoted as saying in The Nation's Soopsip in 2006. "I have to work. I don't have much time because a director of my age is going to be out of fashion soon."

Funeral rites will be held at Wat Makutkasat.

Update: Limitless Cinema in Broken English rates Bhandit's filmography, with The Seed and Once Upon a Time being his best-regarded works.

Update 2: The Nation/Daily Xpress has an obituary with reflections from Bhandit's colleagues.

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