Four inspiring tales for the price of none

An ensemble of four short films made by top Thai directors to screen for free in honour of the late king

A scene from Beautiful Garbage, one of the films in The Gift, an anthology of short films to commemorate King Rama IX. Photos courtesy of Sahamongkol Film International

The gift of love, kindness and generosity from the late King Bhumibol lives on in the minds of all Thais. It serves as the inspiration behind the anthology film Khong Kwan (The Gift), comprised of four short films by four Thai directors to be screened free of charge beginning Saturday at cinemas nationwide.

Veteran filmmaker Nonzee Nimibutr (Nang Nak, Ok Betong) directs one episode and produces the project, which enlists three other directors, Prachya Pinkaew (Ong-Bak, Tom Yum Goong), Chookiat Sakveerakul (Love of Siam, Home) and Kongkiat Khomsiri (Chaiya, Khun Pan).

"We've seen so many films that address King Bhumibol's royal work and I'm sure all Thais are already familiar with them," says Nonzee.

"So we try to find another angle and to look forward. We interpret the late King's teachings and projects as a gift that can be passed on as the country continues to move forward."

Instead of addressing King Bhumibol directly, the quartet of films in The Gift build upon the conceptual implications of his works and philosophy. Each film also takes place roughly in four different regions of the country.

Nonzee's entry is called Beautiful Garbage, in which a garbage collector tries to maintain his integrity in the world of greed and hardship. Prachya's short is called The Letter, in which a boy in the Northeast wishes to send a letter to King Bhumibol. Touching on the environment and reforestation, Chookiat's part is called Rain In The North, in which a group of university students learn the hard truth about villagers' struggles. And in Kongkiat's Sajjatoranee (The Truth Of The Earth), a young girl from the Deep South runs away to Bangkok to find out about her family history.

In Beautiful Garbage, Nonzee said he tried to find a representation of life at street level, and he chose the story of a garbage man who refuses to relinquish his dignity while dealing with the everyday troubles of a poor household. "Garbage is what people have thrown away, but I try to find out if we can pick up something from the pile of discarded objects," said the director.

"A garbage man has a huge responsibility, and he does his job well. That's the beauty of it -- the beauty of hard work and fulfilling one's responsibility."

Chookiat, who directs the episode Rain In The North, is from Chiang Mai. When he was approached to join the project, he immediately thought about the royal rain projects and the abundance they brought. But instead of making a movie literally about King Bhumibol's work, he presents the story of a group of students who have a strong faith in improving the environment in rural areas and learn that everything is more complicated than it looks when the villagers openly question their intentions. "I was reminded of the King's speech in which he talked about the nature of development work," said Chookiat. "To develop a place, we must learn of the real need of the people who live there. That's the way to ensure sustainable progress. I believe that the conflict we're seeing in this country can be resolved by paying attention to what the King said."

Perhaps the toughest entry in the series is Kongkiat's Sajjatoranee, which deals with southern unrest. The film is told largely from the point of view of a teenage girl from the Deep South whose Muslim father is possibly an insurgent who left her and her mother a long time ago.

"We don't want to talk only about loss, but I believe what the late King has left us is the hope that we can move ahead despite the trouble," said Kongkiat. "In the film, the girl is trying to find out who she is, which, I think, is important but not the only important thing in our lives -- because our identity is in a sense a lie. What's real is the soil, the earth, the ground beneath us, and that's why the late King put so much effort in developing the soil."

Lastly, Prachya Pinkaew, usually known for making action films, contributes a quiet, warm-hearted movie about a boy who posts a handwritten letter to King Rama IX, then follows the envelope's journey along the postal system to Bangkok.

"I had a Disney cartoon in mind when I made the film," said Prachya. "The boy's adventure, however, comes to a grand finale, because after all we're talking about a great king."

The Gift

will be screened free of charge at cinemas nationwide beginning Saturday.

A scene from The Letter, one of the films in The Gift, an anthology of short films to commemorate King Rama IX. Sahamongkol Film International

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