สนับสนุนโดย สำนักงานศิลปวัฒนธรรมร่วมสมัย กระทรวงวัฒนธรรม Supported by Office of Contemporary Art And Culture ,Ministry Of Culture

ª  ˹§ҹ


Prachya Pinkaew: The Man Who Changed The Landscape of Thai Cinema


Anchalee Chaiworaporn (cross-publised with Udine Far East Film Festival catalogue)

  ©all rights reserved

In just over a decade, Prachya Pinkaew has been responsible for two tectonic shifts in the Thai film industry. In 1992, he made his directorial debut with The Magic Shoes (Rong Ta Lab Pap). Originally planned as a long-form music video for the then popular pop singer Touch Na Takuatung, the film became a runaway box office hit that ushered in an era of teenage movies from record-cum-film studios RS Film and Grammy Film. In 2003, his studio Baa-Ram-Ewe Productions, revitalized the dying genre of action films when he directed the immensely successful Ong Bak that brought Thai action cinema and Tony Jaa back to the world.



Action movies were considered dead before you made Ong Bak. You also had only made teenage movies before, so why did you decide to bring it back to life?
I had many ideas then, and action was one of them. Spending nine years at RS Promotion taught me that whatever I made must have elements that appeal to large audiences. If I were to make a romance, Id make sure itd be a hit. Ong Bak was one of these projects. Others were the new style horror films such as 999-9999 Tor Tid Tai and a modern ogre ghost story Krasue 2000.

Why did you choose Panna Rittikrai, who had only been making B-movies, to be involved in the Ong Bak project with you? Did you thing of anyone else?
I only thought of Panna. I devoutly followed his work when I was an upcountry student. I recalled seeing many of his films. They were very popular in Northeastern Thailand, when I came from.

At first I didnt like him very much on screen. I thought he was full of himself and often played the snobbish, arrogant character, much like the leads in Hong Kong movies. But his Born To Fight changed my perception. This was the movie in which he and his stuntmen had risked their own lives and pulled amazing stunts and tricks on screen.

That made me a fan but we didnt have a chance to work together until a decade later when we finally sat down to talk. We got along well as we were both from the Northeastern part of Thailand Panna was from Khon Kaen, I was from Korat.

How did you arrive at the combination of Muay Thai and Tony Jaa for your first action film?
Panna told me about an exceptional young stuntman but his style was more Chinese martial arts than Muay Thai. I told him we needed something new. He would not be outstanding if he performed Chinese martial arts. At first there was a negative perception of Muay Thai and I thought we shouldnt bother with it. But after talking to Panna, I thought Muay Thai could do it. If you remember, there was a television commercial almost 30 years ago that featured Muay Thai and it was a huge success. So Panna and I dicided to do it. We had faith in it.


Panna choreographed; I screened his movies. The public doesnt know exactly which styles are Muay Thai and which are not. Of course, I was no expert on Muay Thai but most of the moviegoers werent either! Every martial arts in the world shares some moves because they all came from the same root so some similarity is inevitable. It is even said that Muay Thai originated from China.

At the time, Prachya was the head of Megahead, an affiliate studio of the Thai record giant Grammy Entertainment and its film subsidiary Grammy Film. When Grammy turned down his Ong Bak project, he left Megahead and pitched the project to Sahamongkol Films.



Why did you take a risk with Tony Jaa? For example, hes not handsome by Thai entertainment industry standards.
I had complete confidence in his martial arts skills and I had faith in the potential popularity of Muay Thai. When I saw the combination, I thought, Yes, this is it!. I had seen earlier a movie called Taxi the opening scene shows the leading mans amazing driving without showing his face for five minutes. Then he takes off his hat and we see that he doesnt really have a leading mans looks at all. I thought of using the same technique for Ong Bak. It had to open with a scene that shows Tony Jaas skills for five minutes before showing his face. Only then would the audience accept him.

Can I say that, without you, Thai action films would not be on the world map?
Id admit that I have something to do with it. Panna originally thought of turning a stuntman into a Chinese martial arts leading man like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. But I thought that this would have gone nowhere. Everyone wanted to be the next Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. We needed to differentiate ourselves. So, we had to do something with Muay Thai. Id say my vision of that helped a lot. But with such a good team as Panna Rittikrai and Tony Jaa, it might still have been possible without me.

How do you work with action choreographers?
Actually this is totally a new issue for Thai directors. Working with action choreographers requires a totally different mentality from dialogue-driven movies. Some directors still feel that they have to control everything. If you work with action choreographers like the second unit give them space and control.

Actually I want not like this at first. I had to control everything. But then I realized that I had to take a step back and see if I liked the results or not. Its a little trick most Thai directors dont know. In Thailand you cannot give the second unit total independence. I have to be there and serve as the final decision maker.

How about screenwriter? Do you write your own scripts?
I think very quickly but write very slowly, so for me writing just holds me back. I have my screenwriting team, but all the scripts must contain my thoughts and ideas. Good Thai screenwriters are scarce and I dont know how to improve the situation. Sometimes I challenge them by giving them a list of what my movie must have, but often the writers cant deliver. I might not be fully satisfied with the plot but production has to proceed, so I have to shoot and revise the script at the same time. Tom-Yum-Goong, and in some instances Chocolate and Ong Bak, were mostly criticized for their weak scripts.

What do you think about using special effect in an action movie, compared to martial arts?
Special effects are good gimmicks for action movies. But martial arts are raw and real. The audience can feel what is real. Like the music industry, there are singers who are very dressed up and engineered, and there are those who are just naturally and effortlessly good. The dressed up singers will never be as good as the natural singers.

Following the success of Ong Bak and Tom-Yum-Goong, Thai filmmakers started to produce more and more action films. What do you thing of this change?
If you look at the broader perspective, Hong Kong used to dominate the action film. Hollywood action flicks typified the genre, while French action films were more interesting but there were so few of them. Lately, Hong Kong action films have declined, so the world began to focus on Thai cinema, especially after Muay Thai was introduced. I can confidently say that the world now regards Thailand as the center of exciting action films. We still look fresh and new. But who knows what tomorrow will bring, now that Hong Kong is trying to regain its prominence.

Some said that Tony Jaa rose to global fame because Jackie Chan and Jet Li were getting old.
That may be partially true. But I think that it is also because of Muay Thai which is raw, real, and artistically beautiful. We found that some of the martial arts look too unrealistic, too playful with the moves. I many Jackie Chan movies, we see that the Chinese martial arts are given a comedy treatment. It does not exist in the real world. But Muay Thai is the martial arts of realism, its actually used for real fighting.

Secondly, the credit must go to Tony Jaa himself. He has amazing talent in translating the vigor and beauty off Muay Thai onto the screen. It looks great and liberating flying, jumping, kicking, or punching. Plus, our action films involve real fights. Muay Thai is still a popular sport in Thailand. They fight for real, so why should we do otherwise?
The trend is a mixture of different martial arts. We started by focusing on Muay Thai but I dont think Muay Thai alone can still be a hit. Audiences get bored very easily and we have to change all the time. I cant say what is going to happen in the next five years. I can only say that we must continue to innovate and experiment every year. Action films are here to stay, but the question is how. Similar to horror movies, some people may write them off as mundane and formulaic year after year, but I dont believe that statement. You can do it but it has to be something new.



Chocolate is not purely Muay Thai.
Correct. Even though we do not have any Muay Thai actresses yet, we thought it was better to blend different martial arts styles in Chocolate. In the plot the lead actress is also supposedly influenced by different fighters she encounters along the way.

Actually, the person who influences her character the most is Bruce Lee. The ice factory scene is a tribute to a Bruce Lees film The Big Boss, which was also shot in Thailand. Every Bruce Lee fan in Thailand remembers those scenes.

Do you watch lots of action films?
Yes, I learn a lot from watching. When I decided to make action movies, I watched action movies at least the top ten most popular and influential ones as part of my personal research into the genre. When I made romance, I watched the top romance movies.

Personally, which genre do you like most?
Fantasy. It is new and magical, and of course big-budget. But it challenges the Thai film industry. Actually, I had the opportunity to make fantasy work when I made music videos, but not as a real film. Now I want to make one, especially as a Thai filmmaker, because Im in touch with the thoughts and the imagination of Thai society.


Everything you want to know about Thai film, Thai cinema
edited by Anchalee Chaiworaporn อัญชลี ชัยวรพร   designed by Nat  
COPYRIGHT 2004 http://www.thaicinema.org. All Rights Reserved. contact: thaicine@yahoo.com
By accessing and browsing the Site, you accept, without limitation or qualification, these copyrights.
If you do not agree to these copyrights, please do not use the Site.