Friday, October 16, 2015

From World War I to Love of Siam, 25 Thai films added to historical registry

The Siamese Military in the First World War

Another 25 titles have been added to the growing list of “Films as National Heritage” by the Culture Ministry and the Thai Film Archive, ranging from 1918 footage of soldiers going off to battle in World War I to puppy-love romance between teenage boys in the 2007 drama The Love of Siam.

Updated each year on October 4, which is Thai National Film Preservation Day, the historic-film registry now numbers 125 titles.

Many of the entries this year are from the U.S. Information Service, the propaganda arm of America's diplomatic corps. These include Thai Army Goes to Korean War, which shows Thai troops joining the fight against communism, and Heritage from King Mongkut, which recounts the contributions of American missionary and physician Dan Beach Bradley.

USIS also made The Ordination of the King, documenting the ceremony by which His Majesty King Bhumibol entered the monkhood.

The growth of commercial Thai cinema is represented by entries from the 1970s through the 1990s, ranging from director Piak Poster’s erotic island romance Choo, to Baan Phi Pob 2, the second film in the popular horror-comedy franchise, which had villagers endlessly running around and screaming and they tried to escape the gut-stabbing ghost-granny Pob Yip.

Ta-mone Prai

Aside from Piak, other notable filmmakers on this year’s list are Manop Udomdej, with 1981's On the Fringe of Society, Cherd Songsri with his 1983 sibling-rivalry romance Puen-Pang, Bhandit Rittakol and his 1987 farming drama Duay Klao, Pen-ek Ratanaruang with his 1999 black comedy Ruang Talok 69 and Jira Maligool with his 2002 Nong Khai festival yarn Mekhong Full Moon Party.

Historical battle epics now become history themselves, with the inclusion this year of Thanit Jitnukul’s Bang Rajan from 2000 and MC Chatrichalerm Yukol’s Suriyothai from 2001.

And recent global hits are represented by 2003’s martial-arts drama Ong Bak, which introduced Tony Jaa to the world, and GTH’s 2004 thriller Shutter, which introduced Thai horror to the world.

Here's the list, which is translated by Thai Film Archive deputy director Sanchai Chotirosseranee, who also offered commentary on some of the more-obscure entries.

Ngoa Ba
Films as National Heritage 2015

  1. The Siamese Military in the First World War (unofficial title) / ภารกิจทหารอาสาสยามในสงครามโลกครั้งที่ ๑, 1918/63.26 min. – King Rama VI sent 1,233 Siamese volunteer soldiers to join World War I in 1917. According to newspaper ads from the era, the film was shown in Siam in 1919. It was thought to be lost, but resurfaced last year as France observed the centenary of the war. The French Embassy and the Alliance Francaise exhibited rare photographs and this film footage, which was well-preserved at the archives of the French Ministry of Defense.
  2. The Playful Kids in the Reign of King Rama VII (unofficial title)/เด็กซนสมัย ร.๗, 1927-32)/7 min. – This "found footage" was shot on 16mm. There is no information on who made the film. It shows youngsters putting on a performance for the camera, playing traditional games, dancing, play-fighting and comic acting in the style of Western films, showing the already pervasive influence of film on Siamese society.
  3. Pan-Tai Norasingh/พันท้ายนรสิงห์, 1950/98 min. – Directed by Prince Bhanubandhu Yugala (grand-uncle of MC Chatrichalerm Yukol) with cinematography by then-budding auteur R.D. Pestonji, this is the first theatrical feature of a historical tale that has been adapted many times for theater, film and television. The story, which takes place during the reign of Ayutthaya's King Sanphet VIII, is about an oarsman on a royal barge who loses control of the vessel in strong currents, causing it to hit a tree and become damaged. The king, understanding the difficult conditions, did not wish to punish Norasingh, but the ever-dutiful and devoted sailor insisted that no exceptions should be made, and he was beheaded according to law.
  4. Thai Army goes to Korean War (unofficial title)/ทหารไทยไปเกาหลี, 1951–52)/7.42 min. – The United States Information Service in Bangkok made this clip of Royal Thai Army troops joining the United Nations' "police action" against the communist North Korean invaders.
  5. Heritage from King Mongkut/มรดกพระจอมเกล้า, 1954/60 min. – This USIS dramatization depicted the influential contributions to Thai society of Dr. Dan Beach Bradley, an American Christian missionary and physician, whose close relations with the King Rama IV court helped Western medicine gain acceptance in Thailand. Bradley also published the first Thai newspaper, the Bangkok Recorder.
  6. The Ordination of the King/พระบาทสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัวเสด็จออกผนวช, 1956/13.42 min. – When His Majesty King Bhumibol entered the monkhood for 15 days in 1956, the USIS was there with its film cameras to record the royal ceremony.
  7. The Commercial of the Monk Coin for 25th Buddhist Century Anniversary/โฆษณาพระเครื่องฉลอง ๒๕ พุทธศตวรรษ, 1957/4.52 min. – Commemorative coins were minted in observance of the 25th Buddhist century anniversary, which the government aimed to use to raise funds to build the massive "Buddhist Vatican" called Phutthamonthon, near Salaya, Nakhon Pathom.
  8. Ta-mone Prai/ทะโมนไพร, 1959/42 min. – King Kong has a starring role this an artifact from a lost era of regional cinema. It was made by a filmmaker in Narathiwat and screened only there and in nearby southern provinces. “Only a few of these films survive,” Sanchai says, adding that the complete movie was 50 minutes but one reel was damaged, leaving just 42 minutes of the tale of triangular romance and a giant ape.
  9. Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat Performing the Duty for His Nation as Head of Government and Military Commander Until He Fell Ill and Died/การปฏิบัติหน้าที่เพื่อประเทศชาติในตำแหน่งหัวหน้ารัฐบาลและผู้นำทางทหารจนถึงล้มป่วยและอสัญกรรมของ ฯพณฯ จอมพลสฤษดิ์ ธนะรัชต์, 1963/25.16 min. – Their Majesties the King and Queen make an appearance, visiting the bedridden military ruler, who in an act of devotion, takes His Majesty's hand and places it over his head.
  10. Yuthana und Siripon Monch auf Zeit/ยุทธนา –ศิริพร, 1963/44.54 min – Another monkhood ordination is depicted in this travelogue documentary by German documentarian Hans Berthel in collaboration with noted lensman Tae Prakardwuttisan, following a middle-class Bangkok couple as they visit tourist attractions. Tae was made a National Artist in film in 1999.
  11. The Spread of Kinship/สายเลือดเดียวกัน, 1966–68/103 min. – Another Cold War relic, made with support of the USIS, this feature-length drama aimed to attack and defame communism.
  12. Choo/ชู้, a.k.a. Adulterer, 1972/145 min. – While he's probably best known for his string of teen-oriented comedies, movie-poster-artist-turned-filmmaker Somboonsuk Niyomsiri, a.k.a. Piak Poster, also made many solidly dramatic films, including this erotic island romance. "Although the film was not successful in term of box-office earnings, it was much-acclaimed and became the Thai representative at the 19th Asia-Pacific Film Festival in Singapore, where it was awarded the special award because of its outstandingly unconventional story," Sanchai notes.
  13. Wai Tok Kra/วัยตกกระ, 1978/122 min. – Here's a Thai cinema “first” – the first commercial feature to have elderly people as central characters, with “actual senior actors, not young, famous actors in makeup,” Sanchai explains.
  14. Ngoa Ba/เงาะป่า, 1980/86.21 min. – Two generations of master filmmakers, Prince Bhanubandhu Yugala and Piak Poster, came together to collaborate on this adaptation of a popular play from the King Rama V era. It's a "Romeo and Juliet" romance taking place in land of the Sakai, an indigenous tribe in the South of Thailand.
  15. On the Fringe of Society/ประชาชนนอก, 1981/90 min. – Manop Udomdej directs this flipside view of all that anti-communist propaganda, with the story of community activists who were wrongly persecuted and killed for their socialist leanings. It was funded by the Roman Catholic charity Caritas Thailand.
  16. Puen-Paeng/เพื่อนแพง, 1983/131 min. – Auteur director Cherd Songsri's best-regarded film is the tragic romance Plae Kao (The Scar). But I saw Peun-Pang several years ago and liked it better. Sorapong Chatree stars as a poor farmboy in 1930s Siam, who is in love with one sister, but the girl's plucky younger sister likes him more. It was another entry in Cherd's campaign to introduce the concept of "Thainess" to this world, which I think he accomplishes with subtlety and sensitivity.
  17. Duay Klao/ด้วยเกล้า a.k.a. The Seed, 1987/107 min. – Like Piak Poster in the 1970s, director Bhandit Rittakol in the 1980s was primarily known for his teen-oriented Boonchu movies. Duay Klao was his attempt at "serious" cinema, and he succeeded. Made in celebration of His Majesty the King's 60th birthday, the drama 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 indigenous people, the movie depicts many of the His Majesty's Royal Projects, including cloud-seeding and crop replacement. The movie had a brief revival run in 2006 to celebrate the King's 60th anniversary of accession.
  18. Baan Phi Pob 2/บ้านผีปอบ 2, 1990/91 min. – This is the second entry in a crazily popular ghost comedy franchise, which for many Thais are the films that defined the '90s. The films all involve hayseed villagers endlessly running around and screaming and they tried to escape the gut-stabbing ghost-granny Pob Yip, portrayed by Natthinee Sittisaman.
  19. 6ixtynin9/เรื่องตลก 69 (Ruang Talok 69), 1999/115 min. – With an iconic poster that features actress Lalida Panyopas pointing a gun into her mouth, I'm not sure Ruang Talok 69 would fly in today's squeamishly conservative and politically correct Thai culture. Directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, the biting black comedy is about a desperate jobless woman who comes across an instant-noodle box full of cash outside her apartment. She then haplessly racks up a body count as various thugs try to retrieve the loot.
  20. Bang Rajan/บางระจัน, 2000/118 min. – Produced by Film Bangkok, this was one of the first Thai titles to make global impact during the "new wave" period of the late '90s and early 2000s. Thanit Jitnukul directs the blood-soaked tale of farmers mounting a last-ditch defense against the invading Burmese hoards in 1767.
  21. Suriyothai/สุริโยไท, 2001/142 min. – Directed by MC Chatrichalerm Yukol and supported by Her Majesty the Queen, this epic historical drama recounts the life of an Ayutthaya-era queen who famously took up arms and rode an elephant into battle, and perished in defense of her king. A box office hit that was only recently unseated from the top spot by Pee Mak Phra Khanong, Suriyothai served as the prequel and template for Chatrichalerm's six-film Naresuan saga.
  22. Mekhong Full Moon Party/15 ค่ำเดือน 11 (15 Kham Duean 11), 2002/120 min. – Jira Maligool's charming comedy offers an explanation of the mysterious fireballs that arise from the Mekong River during the annual Full Moon Festival in Nong Khai. While scientists and various experts offer their theories on the phenomenon, there's a local boy and a monk who know the truth.
  23. Ong-Bak/องค์บาก , 2003/104 min. – Directed by Prachya Pinkaew, this is the definitive showcase of the abilities of martial-arts star Tony Jaa and the innovative choreography of Jaa's former mentor Panna Rittikrai, who passed away last year.
  24. Shutter/ชัตเตอร์ กดติดวิญญาณ, 2004/92 min. – Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom wrote and directed this thriller, which is based on the notion of ghostly images turning up in photos, and has Ananda Everingham as a lensman who is haunted and slowly goes insane. It was one of the first Thai films to get the Hollywood remake treatment.
  25. The Love of Siam/รักแห่งสยาม, 2007/171 min. – Widely acclaimed and winner of dozens of awards, this was the hit that brought gay romance to the Thai mainstream. It was a breakthrough for director Chookiat Sakveerakul, as well as the film’s stars, leading man Mario Maurer, actor-musician Witwisit Hiranyawongkul and the August band.
(Adapted from an article in The Nation)

The Love of Siam

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