In the ever-stormy sea of independent film-making, every ingenue goes through the same cycle of dreaming, hoping, fund-hunting. If the dream and the hope can be kept alive, they finish the film and then starting hoping all over again _ this time for the chance to get it released.
Akamsiri Suwannasuk and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk in I Carried You Home .
Tongpong Chantarangkul survived the ordeal, getting through all these stages, and yesterday he saw the release of his very first feature film, Padang Besar _ that's the Thai title, the name of a town in the South; the official English title is I Carried You Home _ at SF Central World and Lido. In fact, Tongpong's film has already gone much farther than he'd have dared imagine several years ago when he first started writing the script: he pulled off a rare feat late last year by having the film bought by a French distributor and it's due for release in France later this year.
I Carried You Home has also been snapped up by the Sundance Channel; it will be aired on cable TV in all Asian territories (except Japan) in late October.
"I've been working on the film since 2008," says the 33-year-old director. "I developed the script with two friends, Piyakarn Butprasert and Pramett Chankrasse. It's a relief that the film is finally coming out on screen."
Tongpong says he has never read William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, and his film's clean, observant narrative is different from that American novel's modernist vision, yet the backbone of the stories are similar. In I Carried You Home, two estranged sisters are forced into a reunion in Bangkok after their mother drops dead while singing on stage in a dreary suburban mall. Their hometown is Padang Besar, one of the southernmost settlements in Thailand, and the two have to share a long ride there in the hospital van that's transporting their mother's body. Along the way we witness rites of discovery, scenes of rift and reconciliation, as the border town with the exotic name peopled by Muslims, Christians and Chinese Buddhists provides a backdrop for the sisters' inner odyssey.
The lead roles are played by Akamsiri Suwannasuk, portraying the elder sister who lives a solitary life in Singapore, and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, as a schoolgirl facing up to a grave responsibility.
"One of the scriptwriters was a woman, my friend Piyakarn, and a lot of the details came from her. But the story was inspired by what happened to another close friend of mine," reveals Tongpong, a graduate of Rangsit University and London Film School.
"What I try to do is explore the relationship between the people who are left behind after someone's death and how they come to terms with their differences. The elder sister is, I think, a reflection of many people in my generation _ someone who wants to finds a secure place for herself in life. While the younger sister is the image that I look back to; she's someone who tries every way she can to get as far away from home as possible."
I Carried You Home premiered last year at the Pusan International Film Festival (Tongpong received funding from the festival organisers to support the writing of his script). The film got a mixed reception, but elicited generally favourable comments from French critics, so much so that a distributor called Pretty Pictures eventually bought it for release in France.
Although named after a town on the Thai-Malaysian border, the film takes place mostly in the confined space of the van and in hotel rooms where the sisters stop off along the way; and the performances delivered by the two leads are its real emotional anchor.
These days hardly any Thai films are set in the deep South, but Tongpong doesn't pitch politics or put the long-running conflict in that part of the country at the top of his list. "This is a film about a family," he says. "The town of Padang Besar is a microcosm of a place where people of different beliefs can live together _ and I find that interesting."
About the author
- Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Deputy Life Editor