Prabda's new film launched in Tokyo

Seen as an allegory about Thai politics, director says film also is 'about art and art making'

Chayanit Chansangavej in a scene from Someone From Nowhere.

The sole Thai film competing at the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival is a chamber drama -- literally -- in which two strangers are pitted in a battle of will and politics of space in a condominium room. Someone From Nowhere is the latest film by writer-director Prabda Yoon, who is in Tokyo this week to present the film in the festival's Asian Future competition. A major cine-event in the year's last quarter, TIFF will wrap on Friday night after 10 days.

Someone From Nowhere will be released in Thailand in a few months, but its world premiere in Tokyo seems apt. Prada, better known in Thailand as a writer and publisher, has had some of his books translated into Japanese and acquired a fair share of a following. The new film also came barely months after his feature-length debut Motel Mist, a dark satire about oppression and power set in a tawdry love motel, diversified his resume and built Prabda's name in the international film circle.

In Someone From Nowhere, a young woman (Chayanit Chansangavej) gets up from her bed and goes through her usual preparation for work. When she opens the door of her room, she finds a man lying injured, his shirt splattered with blood. He helps himself into the room and lies down on the sofa as the woman calls for help -- which by the way never materialised -- and the argument begins: the man (Peerapol Kijruenpiromsuk) insists that he's the real owner of the room and that the woman unlawfully intrudes into the space over which she has no right. The woman, unable to produce a document to prove her ownership, in turn insists that since she has lived in the room and woken up in it for months, the place belongs to her. That quarrel basically takes up the whole film as the two characters try to assert their rights over the room.

Director Prabda Yoon, actor Peerapol Kijruenpiromsuk, and producers Katleeya Paosrijaroen and Soros Sukhum at the Tokyo premiere. Photos courtesy of Prabda Yoon

If Prabda's Motel Mist confounds viewers with its black comedy and sci-fi absurdity (not to mention a profusion of dildos), Someone From Nowhere feels more comprehensible only in form though not in conceptual ambition. Almost the entire film takes place in the room whose real ownership is the source of the drama -- and we realise that this is a film of rich symbolism that will invite myriad interpretations when the film opens here.

It's hard not to read Someone From Nowhere as an allegory of Thai politics; after all, Motel Mist is obviously a symbolic play about the system of oppression.

"I wrote the film very quickly, in two weeks, and at that time there was this controversy over the removal of the 1932 Revolution plaque," said Prabda. "But as we actually shot the film, I felt that it was more than just a story [that refers to Thai politics]. It's also a story about art and art making, the question of ownership and originality."

The film also feels like a stage play, with the clear boundary of the room and the two characters trading verbal challenges -- it's rare for a Thai film to be driven so much by dialogue.

But the real reason Prabda sets the film in one room is much simpler. "It's the very small budget that we have to work with," he said, adding that his conceptual framework was mainly defined by that condition.

In Tokyo, Someone From Nowhere is competing with nine other films from Asia. Two years ago, the Thai film The Island Funeral won the top prize in the Asian Future competition, the first time a film from Thailand scored a major award at the TIFF.

Besides Prabda's film, the festival, in co-operation with Japan Foundation's Asia Centre to support Southeast Asian cinema, also will screen a 2012 Thai film In April The Following Year, There Was A Fire, a documentary-fiction hybrid by Wichanon Somumjarn in the Cross-Cut Asia showcase, which invites established filmmakers from each of the Southeast Asian nations to pick a film from a young promising director (the Thai film was selected by Apichatpong Weerasethakul). Lastly, the TIFF this year also screened Pop-Aye, a Singaporean film shot in Thailand and starred Thai actor Thanes Warakulnokroh in the leading role. The film has become the most well-received and high-profile Singaporean film of the year -- and in effect, for Thailand, as well.

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