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It must be wrong if everybody likes it

By Narawut Chaichompoo
20 January 2006 19:46
The country’s most outspoken and experimental director talks about his new movie and enumerates why the local film industry stinks

Some observers think the Thai film industry is on the rise. If that is the case, some of the credit must go to director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose fourth film, Tropical Malady, became the first Thai work to win an award in the prestigious Cannes festival. But the outspoken and prominent director thinks the Thai film industry is, at the moment, boring.

Apichatpong, 35, is one of a few Thai directors who works outside the studio system. Besides his feature-length works, he has also made shorts and art films. Today, he is working on a new feature, Intimacy and Turbulence. It is one of six films sponsored by the government of Vienna for the ongion celebrations of Mozart’s 250th birthday anniversary in February. The only requirement for Vienna’s financial support, Apichatpong says, is that the core story reflects the composer’s identity.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s next movie, ‘Intimacy and Turbulence,’ is being funded by the government of Vienna as part of the massive celebrations for the 250th birthday of Mozart next month.
1 Apichatpong on his new film

1.1 I don’t want to use Mozart’s music, as I’m not a classical music fan. But I feel that Mozart’s music talks about reincarnation – it looks ahead to the future world with the knowledge of the past world. This is something that hit my heart, so I picked it as a theme. Mozart also talked about magic and mystery. So I say having an ordinary life is magic. I will use my memories of my parents, who are doctors at Khon Kaen Hospital, to supply the story.

1.2 The movie will be experimental in terms of architecture. The story will be the same but the locations will keep changing. The main character will talk about his memories and visions of the future, how life is going to be or what he learned in the past. It will focus on the simple pleasures in life, such as talking or walking.

1.3 This is something that has always interested me: I want to know what it is to be human. [My previous movies], Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady, discussed the nonsensical side of life. What we live for is a question that cannot be answered. But, at least, asking it could make the audience consider the journey of life, and its reality.

1.4 Not many movies, especially Thai movies, talk about ordinary life. I want to see something different happen here. Creating movies about violence is easy – and it can sell, as people are interested in conflict and disaster. But the thing is, I have never experienced the kind of violence that’s in the movies. I want to create something different from other films, but it will also have to match my interests.

1.5 Now my interests run toward stories about private and daily life. I want the movie to be like a diary that reflects me and records my impressions. Whoever wants to know me can watch my movies, including Intimacy and Turbulence. In the future, I hope that I can be a character who draws people to the know Apichatpong and to keep seeing the next chapters in his diary. The part about my parents – it could be something very ordinary. Like going to the dam and being happy. It’s nothing much, but there must be some issue that draws people into it.

1.6 Thai society is very materialistic nowadays. The simplicity of life is gone. There is no calm. No one looks inside the mind. It’s not that people don’t want to, but they forget to, since there are other things to arouse them. I was very happy while writing the screenplay in Kanchanaburi. It was quiet and I got to be by myself. When I came back to Bangkok, I couldn’t concentrate at all. I don’t know. Anyway, at least the movie makes people think of living life, and appreciate the value of silence. Some people may say Intimacy and Turbulence contains nothing, just people going here and there. But that is what I encounter every day. If you look deeper, doing these things is happiness. It is a simple path to happiness.

1.7 In this film, I worked with many actors and actresses. I let them make the movie more realistic. After I saw their personalities during the casting process, I knew more about the movie, which keeps developing. The screenwriting process will gradually become clearer. Now, I can’t tell what the camera angles will be. But I will be able to during the shooting. It will be quite improvisational.

2 On casting

2.1 I want actors who are not shy toward the camera. They must be themselves, and natural, and not worry that someone is watching them. Because during the shooting there will be 20 to 30 people watching. If an actor is very natural, I will choose him, even if he doesn’t fit in the screenplay. Because his real self is more important.

2.2 I let them improvise. Like this new movie – if there is enough time, I would like to improvise the whole movie. But then, that depends on the budget as well.

2.3 Unknown actors tend to have more time for the movie, as they don’t have to spare time for television shows, soap operas or other movies. They will have the time to learn to work with the team. They don’t have to worry about the schedule and the money they’re making.

2.4 Thai actors are not so professional, because of the system here. Thailand is a small country and actors also have to be MCs, they have to do this and that. So it is difficult to develop their abilities and skills. It’s not like Julia Roberts, who really has time to spend with her scripts. That’s why our country lacks professional actors.

2.5 Good acting means not acting much. Good actors must relax and forget that there are people around. They must not think of the audience. Most Thai actors worry about the audience and feel they must bring out their emotions. The actors fear that people will not understand what they are trying to say. They feel they must act certain ways in order to communicate their characters’ emotions. But I don’t want that. I only want them to be themselves in front of the camera. Can you be yourself? If you can, you are good. Because not many people can.

3 On being experimental

3.1 Some say experimental film is hard to understand: “Why do I need to do it, and what for?” This is good. I like different opinions, both compliments and complaints.

3.2 It must be wrong if everybody likes it. It will become like a uniform, a pattern that everybody conforms to, and does not dare to be different. Experimental film is like stirring water and not letting it go still.

3.3 If I focused on the complaints and gave up, new things would never happen. People who do good work would flee abroad, as they will find more interest there. Society would come to lack variety. That’s sad, because life is...[he pauses].

3.4 What experimental film gives is freedom. You feel happy after you walk out of the cinema. You want to continue breathing. You have inspiration to try new things, which is something that our country needs – not just for movies, but for everything. Because we have always had things handed down. There has been no opportunity to be creative. Everybody follows everybody, so nothing is exciting.

3.5 Thai movies are now very boring, as they share a certain pattern of thought. Even Hollywood is more creative. With Thai movies, everything is ready-made to the point that I wonder what space is left for creativity.

4 On society in general

4.1 Both mass-market and independent movies must, at the very least, enrich the mind. I don’t see any creativity in the mere attempt to sell. And it is very scary that the government is pushing materialistic policies. The simple pleasures, which don’t require money, have been ignored. TV is full of commercials. Why? Is it because the producers depend on advertising revenue in order to survive, or because the producers are greedy? I don’t know. But it seems that this happens in many parts of society. Kids have nowhere to go. Parks are boring – they have loudspeakers and there’s always new construction. So, then, maybe it’s better to go to department stores. But everywhere is loud. I’m afraid that new generation will be afraid of silence. People tend to appreciate silence less and less. It is so hard to live in this society.

4.2 I’m afraid that people will no longer care about mental or spiritual matters. If you build 20 new department stores, can you build parks to balance them out? I have no more hope for this generation. But we need to do something for next generation, and not let it continue to be like it is today.

4.3 Thai kids don’t dare to be different because of the educational system. To become a teacher should be the same as becoming a doctor. But the Thai way of thinking says that if you are a good student then you should be a doctor. That bars people from being what they want to be.

4.4 Our country needs to find a balance between traditional and new things. There is not much left that can be sold. Creativity is like solar energy. It could shine at any time during our lifetime. It should be applied while the ancient tourist destinations are getting rotten. Visitors will not keep coming to the Grand Palace. The oceans are already dirty. Movies are among of the new things that need financial support.

4.5 In Hong Kong, if you take your short film to make a DVD in the Motion Center, they suggest which festival you should send your film to. They help to facilitate it. At least I want our country to have such a center and it should be quite independent – not like, “the movie can’t show a penis, as it will make the country look bad.” Don’t the committee members have penises? It is human.

4.6 The authorities like to claim that people are starving, so why should they need to invest in the arts? They need to look at the long term. Do they want to see people have crude minds? Good art is like religion: it helps people look into themselves. And that helps every part of society, including the economy.

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