This article was first written for The Nation
in June 1997 after the hits of Nonzee Nimitbutr's Daeng
Bailey and the Young Gangster, and
the Berlin premier of Penek Rattanaruang ' s Fun
Bar Karaoke. Both of them become the
leaders of the contemporary new-wave.
Nobody predicted that a director of TV commercials
like Nonsee Nimitbutr would hit the jackpot in
a period of economic decline. But his debut movie 2499
Anthaphan Khrong Muang (Daeng Bailey and
the Young Gangsters) has broken the Thai box
office all-time record, taking Bt75 million in
Why has the film been so successful and what
does it mean for the Thai movie industry? Critic
Sananjit Bangsaphan said the film - which uncharacteristically
features no teen idols or pop superstars - owes
its success to quality film-making particularly
Tik Jetsadaporn, who starred as Daeng Bailey,
is a newcomer to the screen (though he is gorgeous),
and only a few of his gangsters had any acting
experience. Without the usual drawcard of proven
celebrities, 2499 was promoted mostly
by word of mouth.
Most significantly, this is one of the few films
you will see adults going to with their teenage
children - a phenomenon not often seen during
the last decade of predominately teen flicks.
Undeniably, a portion of the film's success
is due in part to the controversy surrounding
it. Based on actual events in 1956, the characters
in 2499 are portrayals of real-life people who
were once familiar to the local police - Daeng
Bailey, Piak Wisukasat, Pu Raberdkhuad, and others.
But two or three weeks into the screening, many
of these people came out in the media to dispute
the movie's factual accuracy. This generated
public interest, particularly among the older
generation who were youngsters in 1956.
The success of 2499 has provided a
glimmer of hope for the industry.
Sananjit said, No matter if they are Nonsee
or Penek Ratanaruang [director of Fun Bar
Karaoke], this is a good time for new blood.
They have a background in TV commercials where
they learn how to make movies within a limited
time - 30 seconds or one minute. When they make
a feature, they know how to get their point across
in a short time
The last two years have marked a turning point
in Thai film-making with a whole new crop of
fresh directors. They can be categorised into
three groups, depending on their background,
which differs from older directors who usually
started as crew members and worked their way
up to directing.
The first group are TV-commercial directors
like Nonzee, Penek or Lamnao Sudtoh (Lab
Lae Mahatsajan). TV commercial experience
is a good training ground for learning how to
compromise between quality and commercial requirements.
The second wave is called imported directors,' including Theeranit Thamrongvinitchai (Nang
Baeb) from New York University or Supachai
Surongsain (Miracle In April ) from
These directors tend to be purists and are usually
not very business-minded. Their films are rarely
instant successes though they are interesting.
Supachai's Miracle In April, for
example, featured no stars at all and the first
rough cut was four hours not really in line
with the average filmgoers'attention span.
The third group are music video directors, especially
from RS Film. On this list are Rachen Limtrakul
(Loke Thang Bai Hai Nai Khon Diao)
and Kittikorn Liaosakun (18
Phuen See Mai Mee Sua). The only problem
with their work is that it tends to look too
much like music video.
Time will tell if this industry renaissance
will continue. Money is, as usual, a bit of a
problem. Many new directors and their teams,
except those with RS Film and Grammy Film, are
so devoted to their work that they sometimes
work without pay.
Nonzee wanted to use the sound-on-film process
for 2499 but the Bt8 million budget
was too small. The art director and editor then
decided to forego payment to save the Bt300,000
they needed. In this case the movie was so enormously
successful they eventually got their money.
The new wave of directors brings some hope to
what has, creatively at least, been a flagging
industry. But if we want it to continue, let's make sure we keep their stomachs full.