Published on November 29, 2007
Pong (Kotee Aramboy) and Duang (Kom Chuanchuen)
In Thailand, the films most likely to make pots of money at the box office are comedies with simple plots, yet ironically the directors who come up with these recipes for success are derided by their peers for impeding the development of the Thai film industry.
Filmmaker Rergchai Paungpetch, whose latest movie "Ponglang Sading Lumsing Saina" ("Ponglang Amazing Theatre") opens in theatres today, knows what it's like to be at the receiving end of those barbs. He remembers being criticised by friends in the business for 2005's "Phayak Rai Saina" ("Dumber Heroes") and last year's "Sab Sanit Sit Saina" ("Noodle Boxer"), even though the total income for the two films was a hefty Bt175 million.
"Judging whether a film is good or bad is surely a question of individual taste. I think it's very unfair to say that comedy is too stupid to pay for. If you make a comedy, you judge its success on whether or not it makes the audience laugh. And sometimes what makes people laugh simply doesn't convey a message," he says.
But he admits the strong reactions did hurt his feelings and made him wonder whether he had been right to quit his previous career as a well-paid TV producer.
"I love going to Talok Cafes [entertainment venues at which groups of comedians perform] and I'm not embarrassed by that. I felt - and still feel - those criticisms were unacceptable," says the 37-year-old director.
However, Rergchai admits that he wasn't completely satisfied with "Dumber Heroes", despite a sterling cast that included comics Thep Phongam and Jaturong Mokjok.
"It comes across as a collection of comedy-clip videos and lacks a proper plot," he says. "I was too inexperienced to bring together the strands of the story at the end."
But it was a valuable learning experience and Rergchai still recalls the exhilaration he felt at the end of each day on the set.
His second film was even more successful, taking in Bt100 million at the box office and winning two prestigious awards at this year's Bangkok Critics Assembly, with Nattaveeranuch Thongme taking home the prize for Best Actress and Kotee Aramboy being named Best Supporting Actor.
Now he's bringing the Northeast's most successful folk band Ponglang Sa-on to the big screen in "Ponglang Sading Lum Sing Saina".
"Ponglang are real musicians. They love their folklore and use it to earn a living. They are sincere about what they are doing, but people only recognise them as entertainers.
The band is led by the multi-talented Somphong "Eed" Khunaprathom and his two colourful supporters Duangruedee "Lulu" Boonbumrung and Khwanapha "Lala" Ruangsri. And while the trio has appeared in several movies, this is the first time the entire ensemble has been given the chance to take a leading role.
Eed plays Tomorn, a down-on-his-luck theatre owner who is trying to sell his haunted cinema through real-estate agent Ploy (Visa Sarasas) with whom he is secretly in love, despite strong opposition from his uncle Pai.
Tomorn has the support of his friends and his staff including taxi driver Win (Kavi "Beam D2B" Tanchararak). But after the cinema closes, Priaw (Duangruedee Boonbumrung), Whan (Khannapha Rueangsree), Duang (Khom Chuanchuen), K (Anuchit Kulsri) and Pong (Kotee Aramboy) don't take up new jobs. Instead they come back to the theatre to eat and sing songs well into the night.
That's when Tomorn decides to turn the cinema into a studio.
"The character is trying to move forward by selling the venue, but sometimes it's unnecessary to take drastic action. If we look around carefully, we may come up with an alternative that makes everyone happy," the director explains.
But while this film may have a message, its priority is to entertain.
"I don't preach. Lessons should come from teachers and parents. If kids don't listen to them, how can they believe what movies have to say?"
Aside from the Ponglang band, Rergchai also mixes in two good-looking protagonists (Visa and Beam D2B) and spices up the comedy with Kotee Aramboy and Kom Chuangchuen, both of whom have appeared in his previous films.
"Their styles are different, so I've worked carefully to make the blend work," says the director.
Recently, comedy films have been criticised for their overuse of rude words, which could constitute a Thai comedy genre on their own. An anonymous posting on the Internet recently ranked "Noodle Boxer" third on the list for its rude word count.
Rergchai is unapologetic. "I'm more careful in this film, but caution doesn't override emotions. If the script calls for a rude word, I use it," he says.
But he is well aware that the film, which is very Thai in terms of the story, the location and also the lifestyle, will only appeal to the domestic market and has no chance of making it overseas.
"Right now, I'd rather stay true to what I love doing and not worry too much about the international market. But Hollywood, Hong Kong and even South Korean comedies are making Thais laugh these days so it's not impossible that our comedies will eventually be entertaining for foreigners too," he says.
His next project, "Hode Na Hiaw" offers a glimpse at an old-style Thai movie - Chalong Phakdeewijit's 1970's action franchise "Thong" ("Gold"). The project is about a group of people who are so nostalgic about the "good old days" that they dress and lead their lives as if time had stood still.
"I'm looking forward to it. It's the first old Thai film I've ever worked on," says the director.