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The Turning Point
  Anchalee Chaiworaporn
   
 

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 five months.

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 its cinematography.

 

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.”

(Nonzee Nimibutr)
(Penek Rattanaruang)

“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 UCLA.

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 … 80 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.

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