What's history if not what we remember? Or what we choose to remember? Or what we think we remember? Or what we want to remember? Or what we're told to remember? Or what we're swept into the wave of what everybody remembers? I thought I had said it in my review yesterday, but please spare me a few hundred words more on the curious cases of the two hottest Thai movies of the moment; two films that draw heavily on the still-gushing wellspring of history, real or remembered, actual or imaginary.
One is a folk legend now enshrined as a pop-phenomenon: the film Pee Mak, a retelling of the ghost yarn Mae Nak Phra Khanong, is fast on its way to become the second highest-grossing Thai film of all time. Part slapstick, part love story, it inspires giggles and sobs and even a streak of political analysis as certain pundits read it as a debunking of historical orthodoxy and the straightjacket of storytelling tradition (true, to an extent). It must be noted, however, that of the 10 highest-grossing Thai films in history, five of them are blood-rushing patriotic tales about Ayutthaya-Burmese fighting, and two are based on the same story of the lovesick banshee Mae Nak, including the hit new version. What's history if not what writers want it to be? Maybe the Mae Nak saga is as bogus, or as real, as the sagas of chest-thumping heroism of our 16th century Ayutthaya. Still, what has fired up the politically minded pundits is Pee Mak's blithe abandon of familiar rules in period recreation: The characters speak with 21st century jargon; monks are useless and no longer the moral bedrock who can crush evil spirits; and most tear-jerking is the movie's suggestion that man and ghost can happily co-exist. This final point is crucial, for it's interpreted by some to show the film's "progressive" attitude - the possibility of harmonious existence between people of different leanings and nature is precisely at the heart of our current social conflict. The "ghosts" are among us, and if you haven't already, you should start learning to accept them.
Oh well. It's possible to read it that way, and it sounds, like what dear Mae Nak looks like in life and death, sexy as hell. But when you toss the coin and catch it fast enough it's the tails and not the heads that show: that man-ghost co-existence doesn't necessarily mean that Pee Mak is "subversive" but that it's naive. Love conquers all - yes, in your dream. The whole thing sounds like the dubious "Together We Can" banner once splashed around the city to lull us into oblivion, a gloss over the chasm, a half-functioning parachute above the yawning abyss. Mind you, I like the film for what it is, and the reason Pee Mak makes crazy money is because it's loose and funny, and perhaps because it triggers this cool, shallow belief in the star-crossed lovers overcoming the odds set by ideology and death.
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