Published on November 1, 2007
writer Makut Ornruedee, Euthana Mukdasanit and film critic Nanthakwang Sirasoonthorn.
In 1978, a young author by the name of Makut Ornruedee wrote a book based on his childhood in Thailand's Muslim south. "Pheesuea Lae Dokmai" ("Butterfly and Flowers"), published under the pseudonym Nipphan, painted a picture of hardship and struggle through the eyes of two Muslim children.
In 1985, the book was turned into a film by director Euthana Mukdasanit, who last week was given a Lifetime Achievement Lotus Award at the World Film Festival of Bangkok.
On Sunday, the writer and the director sat in front of a packed audience at the Esplanade Cineplex to talk about their masterpiece.
"The film seems better than when I watched it last," says Makut. "Sadly, the same can't be said for the situation in the South. The things I mention in the story are still happening and now the violence is much, much worse."
Euthana was given the green light to make the film after drawing audiences with his drama "Nampoo".
"Butterfly" flopped at the local box office but met critical acclaim at the Hawaii Film Festival. Now, two decades later, it is considered one of the 100 must-see Thai films of all times.
The film tells the story of Hujan (Suriya Yaovasang), a Muslim boy who quits school to peddle candy and ice cream after learning that his father (Suchao Pongwilai) will soon be out of a job - he is no longer needed to work on the roads now that rail transport has arrived in the South.
His friend Mimpi, a girl at the same school, often goes to visit a town on the Thai-Malaysian border to help in her family's business. Hujan hears from Mimpi that smuggling white rice is dangerous but pays very well. In order to provide financial support for his family, Hujan becomes deeply involved in illegal activities, but finally gives up smuggling after his enemy-turned-friend Naka (Rome Issara) dies from a train accident.
"It's a coming-of-age story," says the director.
The film, with its subtle camera angles and witty script, beautifully captures the essence of the novel. It shows how Buddhists and Muslims lived together peacefully, their joint struggle against poverty and how the arrival of progress affected their simple lives.
"As a writer, I don't have the right to explain anything beyond my story. But the book is certainly a reflection on society at the time," says Makut when asked if the story contains an educational theme.
"The story offers a true explanation of the problems in the south of Thailand," Euthana concurs.
In a rare move for Bangkok filmmakers, Euthana and scriptwriter Rasami Phaoluangthong travelled to the South, spending several weeks studying the location and getting a feeling for the countryside and the people.
"His story gives a rounded portrayal of society, the politics and the religious dynamics. He really helped me see each dimension clearly," says Euthana.
In the story, the train is representative both of the smuggling trade and of the struggle to survive.
"The train is a metaphor for the journey of life," says the writer.
The two men met in the '70s when Makut, then a writer for Lalana magazine, interviewed Euthana, who was finishing his thesis in theatre at Thammasat University. After the novel was published in 1977, Rasami reviewed it, and later she and Euthana decided to turn it into a film.
Euthana started his directing career in 1977 with the musical "Theptida Bar 21" ("Angel Bar 21") and over the years earned a reputation for focusing on social themes with strong scripts.
His last film was "Yuwachon Thaharn" ("Boys Will Be Boys - Boys Will Be Men"), which he made in 2000 while heading up Grammy Films.
He directed the 2001 musical "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and is currently preparing a new stage play. He intends returning to the movie industry sometime next year.