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Interview with Yuthlert Sippapak

  29 August 2006
 

Paolo Bertolin, Italian critic and writer, has been providing contributions to various Italian magazines, newspapers and websites, such as Cineforum and Il manifesto, as well as to international media, such as The Korea Times and The Jakarta Post. Mainly focus his interest on Asian cinemas, he has been travelling from San Francisco, Bologna (Italy), Seoul, Jakarta, Taipei Bangkok might be his next destination.

 

 

 

Yuthlert Sippapak is no doubt one of the most prominent directors in the contemporary mainstream cinema of Thailand. His debut feature, Killer Tattoo (2001) garnered him a cult following thanks to the skillful blend of genres. A mixture that became Yuthlerts trademark as he combined horror and comedic elements in the even more popular Buppha Rahtree (2003), and its sequel Rathree Returns (2005). Not only popular with local audiences, Yuthlerts films have been widely appreciated all over the world at specialty festivals, such as Far East Film Festival in Udine ( Italy ) and PiFan, Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival ( South Korea ). His latest film, Ghost of Valentine (2006) marked a departure for Yuthlert, as comic relief was reduced to a minimum, whereas more dramatic elements were introduced, as well as an unexpected ending. Such novelties, added to the unusual choice of releasing a horror flick on Valentines Day, perhaps justified the poor reception of the film at Thai box office. Paolo Bertolin talked with Yuthlert during PiFan (Puchon International Film Festival) 2006, where Ghost of Valentine was selected for the feature competition.

Where did the original concept of Ghost of Valentine come from?

I think I made Ghost of Valentine because the first movie I saw in my life, when I was like five years old, was about this kind of ghost that we in Thai call krasue. This kind of ghost really stuck in my mind, and I have always thought that if I had the chance I would just have to do something with it. I feel krasue is different from any other kind of ghost; sometimes it looks more like a freak. The reason why is that kraseu has the appearance of a ghost, but inside it is a human being. It is not a pure ghost, as usually ghosts are dead people. However, I wanted to do something different from the original film I saw when I was a kid, so I came up with Ghost of Valentine.

 

What was the title of that film?

Kraseu , like the name of the ghost. My film is also called Kraseu Valentine in Thai, but in English it is called Ghost of Valentine, because I felt krasue is difficult for foreigners to pronounce and spell.

 

Can you tell me something about that old movie?

In the old film a girl becomes a krasue, because she is exposed to a contagion. It is like a vampire movie: you become a krasue because you get bitten or because you touch something wrong. Then at night the head and bowels take off the body and float around in search for food. The krasue has to eat something filthy, dirty, like trash or the placenta thrown away after childbirth. But the real reason why one becomes a krasue is the sins, the bad things one has committed in previous lives so that he/she has to be reborn like this. And the people in the village chase them, and kill them or burn them.

This film was released in Thailand for Valentines Day. What was your intention in having this kind of movie showed to audiences on lovers day?

At first, my studio asked me when my next movie would be ready to hit theatres. I answered that maybe February could be good. But then, if you release a movie in the month of February, it is inevitable to think of having some connection with Valentines Day. I liked the idea: I wanted to deal with a mix of love story and horror. I always try to mix genres as I often did with comedy and horror. So I was intrigued by the concept of romantic horror: the perspective date of release for the film had in a way become a starting point for the plot.

So the point of departure was love, and the romantic imagery. But as I was thinking and writing I thought of ways of twisting and plying that imagery to the needs of horror. For instance in my film I used the red rose, a primary symbol of love, as a source of evil and bad things. I had fun in doing so, and I thought it would be interesting to see what happens if I launch a horror movie on February 14 th when Thai people only think about love and love and love. I thought it might be really weird for them, but that maybe they could be curious to see how a ghost love story could look like.

What was the reaction from the audience?

The audience did not get it. They did not care much, because they felt it was not the right kind of film for Valentines Day. People want to see uplifting stories and happy endings on the silver screen. I instead have delivered them a horror movie with a very sad ending, full of heavy drama. My fans were especially disappointed because I made my name through comedy horrors and they liked that formula a lot. They expected to watch something fun, but this movie is no fun at all... But I dont mind

So, compared to your previous films, Ghost of Valentine was not successful?

No, not successful at all.


Was there any specific reason why the love story that originates the situation in the present is set in 1941? Or was it just a casual choice?

I actually just found a date that could make plausible the plot. I needed to go back of sixty years in time, in order to make the logic of rebirth work.

What about the setting in a hospital?

After I came up with the basic concept of a ghost love story, and the key idea that the ghost had to be the girl, I went out scouting locations. I was of course looking for places that looked scary, and found this real hospital that looks so creepy. It is a real place, and it is still operating, with a nurse house and everything. It looked perfectly scary and I shoot the whole film there.

You mentioned the fact that audiences might have been disappointed by the lack of comedy in Ghost of Valentine, but also by its tragic ending. How did you come up with such finale? What did you want to convey with it?

I would say it is a personal thing. In general, when I know people are expecting something from me, I always come up doing something different. If you expect something, I am not going to let you see what you want. Moreover, I wanted to test the audience and see if they could take this kind of movie. Eventually I had to realize they dont really want it, maybe because their life is even more tragic than the movie, so that they just want cheerful and uplifting stories in films. But I had to just try and see anyway. Also, in my films, I just dont want to do the same things again and again. Why should I do comedy horror again? For the money? It is not necessary to me, so I do what I feel is good to do, and what interests me to do. Maybe the film was not successful just because it does not work at 100%, and so it was not good enough to bring people to the theatres. Still, I wanted to see for myself what I could do and how audiences would respond. I had to try.

This horror is in a way very connected with Thai culture. Not only because krasue is a kind ghost unbeknown to Westerners, but also because the whole thing is pretty much related to Buddhism, to reincarnation, karma, and retribution for sins committed in previous life. What can you say about the scheme of cultural references behind the film, especially about the Buddhist side of it?

First, when I started writing the script, I had no idea of the main theme behind the whole narrative. I could not think of one. One day I walking around and entered a bookstore, where I saw this popular bestseller, a book about a nun in Thailand who can see what you did in your previous life. I bought and read it, and well, you have to know that I my self am a Buddhist, and I believe that people have to be born again, and that what you did in past lives will determine your next reincarnations. I myself feel like many things I did in the past are pretty bad, and this nun says that making people scare of the bad things they do is good, that telling them to stop is good. This made me think Why dont I do something to make people feel guilty, making them understand about bad deeds and sins? I thought that happy endings is not all that there is about watching a movie, so whatever might happen, my goal and theme in Ghost of Valentine was to make people scary of committing sins. I am aware that people may not understand, but I believe this was a good thing for me to do.

So, it all comes down to my Buddhist beliefs, and the things I did and that happened to me. You see, these days people practice abortion every day, and it is getting worse in Thailand right now: people are not afraid of sin or of hell, because they dont believe in it. So, as a filmmaker, I thought on how I can make people afraid: of course, I know I cannot make them believe in reincarnation if they dont, but at least I thought I could make them feel guilty about the bad things they did.

 

So youre saying that this film was meant to make people scare away from bad deeds and sins: would you then say that Ghost of a Valentine is a religious film of sorts, your own one-of-a-kind Buddhist crusade?

Maybe. For sure we can say this is a movie made by a filmmaker who believes in real Buddhism and believes in karma, and that the most important thing is the end. The ending is meant to make you understand that you cant turn your back to the things you did, you have to accept and face it, and you have to feel guilty. In some way, it is very similar to the film Dead Man Walking: before you die, you should feel guilty for what you did. You have to understand guilt and accept it.

At one point one of the side characters says that if they make films about krasue, then krasue must exist. Was this line just made for outright fun or did you want to comment on something through it?

In the film this is the characters belief, but of course it is a way of making fun of the whole movie itself. Indeed, the point indeed is not that I want to make people believe in krasue. Instead, I want to make people believe in karma. krasue is just a symbol that hopefully can make people see the real thing: the things you did and do are more important than the way you look.

Yuthlert Sippapak (far left) on directing Ghost of Valentine.


Since Ghost of Valentine was disappointing at the box office, do you think you will ever make another film in this vein again? Will you just go back to the mix comedy and horror or will you explore other genres?

It was something of an experiment to me, doing something that the people would not expect, the kind of movie you cant imagine what it is like. I think that just judging from the poster of Ghost of Valentine nobody could really guess what was going to happen, nobody could guess about the ending. People want watching it blank. And that is the way I like it. In the future, if I feel like doing something strange, I might even get the chance to do it. But it all comes down to the people who give me the money I to make the films! I think my next movie will be easier to understand, something that will make audience feel better, something mainstream. But after that I might get back again to something different.

So you plan to alternate between audience-friendly and more personal projects?

I think so. I think making people through films is the mainstream, whereas making people feel something deep and realize something about life is different. That is what I tried to do with Ghost of Valentine.

What is your opinion on the current the situation of cinema in Thailand , both in terms of what the audience wants from Thai films and what the Thai industry is producing?

Audiences still want mainstream. The majority wants movies that entertain, whereas art house or personal or experimental films cater only to a very limited group of people. This latter kind of movie is not going to make much money with Thai audiences, yet I think that if you have the chance to make a personal movie, you definitely should do it. I think that in every country the bigger portion of the market is in need for entertainment, but if you want to make entertaining movies, then you have to be happy yourself. At least, thats the way I make movies: I have to feel happy to make entertaining movies.

 

 

 

 

 

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