Thai director finally realises his dream of making a Lao language movie !!
29.11.2012 - 08:07:23

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Thai director finally realises his dream of making a Lao language movie !!

Sakchai Deenan is Thai, but he's pretty big in Laos. Talk about filmmaking and cultural exchange among the nations of Southeast Asia and the man with limited means and image of a constantly struggling director has carved out a unique new segment, feeding off the interconnectedness between the peoples of Thailand and Laos, and managed to reap fair success these past four years.


Lao actress Khamly Philavong, left, on the set with Thai director Sakchai Deenan.

In 2008, Sakchai's debut feature film, Sabaidee Luang Prabang, which he co-directed with Anousone Sirisackda from Laos and starred Ananda Everingham, who is half-Lao, half-Australian, was credited with resurrecting enthusiasm in movies in our neighbouring country, where filmmaking was virtually non-existent in the decade preceding it. After directing five films in Laos, often featuring a mix of Thai, Lao and other luk krueng cast, Sakchai's upcoming film, The Red Scarf, is making waves. It is the first Lao horror movie in decades with a purely native cast. The film is Sakchai's first attempt at doing the entire movie in the Lao language.

"I have always had this urge for making a Laos-based film, but I wasn't sure what the story was going to be. I didn't see a horror film coming along the way, at all," explains Sakchai, a native of Surin province.

The Red Scarf opens next week simultaneously in Thailand and in Vientiane, along with other Lao cities.

Sakchai had this desire to break out of his comfort zone. His previous films _ mostly romantic _ portrayed the strong ties between Thai and Lao people and featured famous Thai actors well known among the Lao audiences.

"Last year, I got a chance to work with a Lao team which produces a television series. Working with local staff and equipment, it was the first time I got to learn about the cost of filming a production in Laos," he adds.

Last August, Sakchai released his Laos-based production Always On My Mind, starring Thai actor Pavarit Mongkolpisit and Lao actresses. The film grossed 300,000 baht in Laos, while in Thailand only one cinema agreed to screen it, in Bangkok, though the intention was more to promote the movie than earn money.

"With the result I thought it was possible to make a film in Laos with an all-Lao cast," he says.

The Lao film industry is seeing a silver lining after years of non-activity. During 1950-75, most releases were propaganda documentaries made by the government and the Lao Patriotic Front, such as Gathering In The Zone Of Two Provinces produced by Vietnamese filmmakers and 20 Years Of Revolution (1965).

After 1975, the film industry in Laos went into a state of decline, and in the next 20 years only a few films were made, among them being another socialist drama, Bua Daeng (1988). The idea of filmmaking on a commercial basis and for entertainment received a boost when Sakchai released Sabaidee Luang Prabang in 2008.

Today, Laos is host to the Luang Prabang Film Festival, organised by an American who is a long-time resident of the country (see side story). Adding to this newfound passion is a movement called Lao New Wave, led by Anysay Keola, whose film Plai Tang (At The Horizon) was the first Lao film to feature guns, violence, and women in contemporary wardrobe instead of traditional sinh. The group's new film, Hak Aum Lum, a romantic comedy starring amateur actors was released earlier this year.

This batch of young talents acknowledge Sakchai as the one who lit up their hopes.

The Red Scarf has a flavour of pulp horror drawn from primitive folk talk of Southeast Asia. The story is set 30 years ago in a small village where a herbal doctor named Sith (Anousorn Vongkhammountry) lives with his wife (Khamly Philavong, who appeared in Sakchai's other films before). Sith has to travel to the city to study medicine to help his ill mother, and his wife makes him a red scarf as a souvenir. On the road he is injured in a serious accident and returns home because he worries for his mother, while his head slowly falls off his shoulders.

"One of my friends told me this story a long time, but what triggered me to look at it again was when I attended my best friend's funeral," he says. Sakchai's friend died some time back and the cause of death was that he was drunk and fell asleep inside a car with the air-conditioner on and windows locked.

Although the film leaves much to be desired in terms of style, the significance lies in it being a Lao-speaking film directed by a Thai. And Khamly, the lead actress wih fine features, is now a rising star. She made her film debut opposite Ananda in Sabaidee Luang Prabang.

"I never thought that one day I would be on the movie screen. I used to watch Thai TV shows and movies, but couldn't believe that one day I would co-star with an actor like Ananda. He has always been my favourite actor," Khamly told Life over the phone from Beijing where she's studying for a master's degree.

"This is the first time I was able to study carefully the personality of my character, while in my early films I was just being myself." But that's not the hardest part for Khamly.

"I am very scared of ghost,"she laughs. "Now that's the hardest part."

(Published: 28/11/2012 at 12:00 AMNewspaper section: Life Tweet )