The Overture is a bag of cinematic mix. On the surface, its theme of an artist's love in traditional music is quite an old fashion. Sorn is a boy born from a treble gamelan master during the times of 1886 who stops teaching after his first son is murdered by his rival. But the young boy shows such a high talent that the father changes his mind. Into the road of master, Sorn fights his own internal conflicts to conquer the arts, encountering his rival whom he later praises as one of his teachers, and facing, in the last stage of life, the most difficult time in his career, even higher than the challenge by his rival: the fight against the government policy of Thai cultural revolution.
Such sleepy plot of traditional Thai music could easily bring The Overture into a box-office disaster. And it certainly did so. Only after one weekend, it was immediately pulled out from most of the theatres. It could easily turn into one of the worst performance in 2004 if a phenomenon did not break out.
For the first time in the Thai film history, the public and media joined hands to help bring the film from this ill treatment by theatre owners. Solidarity filled out in the air. It all started from the swarming hits by website travelers, urging the public to help the film, including one of the TV hosts. Media rushed into inviting producer Prince Chatreechalerm Yukol and the director for special interviews and coverage. Extra screenings were immediately resumed. This time some royal family members also attended the show.
Is The Overture really exceptional and then called out such an immediate public reaction? To be fair, despite its conventional plot, the director tries to construct the film in a non-formulaic way. There are very few scenes that can take the grip of your body and emotion, if you expect cinematic innovation or narrative enjoyment.
However, director Ittisunthorn Wichailak, who made his promise in his directorial debut Lookbah Tiao Lah Sud (literally mean, The Last Reckless Craziness) during the dying era of Thai cinema in early 1990s. Though The Overture has a very bland plot, he edited the film into two parallel parts: the life of young Sorn who conquers his rival until he enters the palace to serve the monarchy, and the old Sorn who encounters the government's policy of cultural revolution. The flashback scenes and the days of old Sorn were edited in parallel throughout the movie.
This editing style might lessen the narrative boredom but it might be difficult for foreigners to understand and miss some details. This is clearly in the case of the Thai Cultural Revolution, which was not clearly revoked in the same way as China's Cultural Revolution. During 1940s and 1950, the military government did try everyway to modernize Thailand into the western standard and old traditional Thai arts were considered out-of-dated.' Thus in the last scene when old Sorn silently fights against his enemy, the police, by ignoring their warning and insisting on playing his own traditional music, for me as a Thai, this is an important moment. But I wonder if the same emotion will be shared by my foreign friends.
The director's meticulous craftsmanship is the best part. Unlike his New Thai Cinema fellows from advertising, Ittisunthorn made the film with his feeling, not a spectacle of high concept. There then come two small' scenes that sink me into my seat. Firstly is when the young Sorn expresses his internal feeling when he is crushed on her by playing such a sweet music. Another scene is when old Sorn hears the piano's song played by his Sorn. He enjoyably joins his son's show by playing his own gamelan. Music, no matter of western or eastern, has one shared value: the spirit of pleasure and arts.
The Overture is an honest film full of originality and meticulous construction. I believe Ittisunthorn will have a long way to go, one of the ten best directors of New Thai Cinema wave.
Screenplay: Ittisunthorn Wichailak, Donkamon Sattathip, Pheerasak Saksiri
Cinematography: Nattawut Kittikun
Music: Chatchai Pongpraphaphan
Principal Cast: Adul Dulyarat, Anuchit Sapanphong, Pongphat Wachirabanjong, Narongrit Tohsanga
Production: Mongkol Cinema, Prommit Production, Cinemasia