When the actors and director of the Thai film Yes Or No visited the Shanghai International Film Festival last year, they were amazed that 800-plus Chinese fans were waiting to greet them at the airport. What was even more surprising was how the small-budget, lesbian-themed flick from a foreign country could attract such a following when the film was never screened in China.
Apittha Klay-udom and Supanart Jittaleela in the sequel of Yes Or No.
In 2010, Thai audiences were introduced to the self-discovery and romance between two university girls, Kim (Supanart Jittaleela) and Pie (Suparat Manaying) in Yes Or No. While movies with gay themes are not uncommon in Thailand, the film took another step by being the first openly lesbian film. And although it was not the talk of the town like other queer films such as Love Of Siam or Bangkok Love Story, the movie received good feedback from fans and its appeal seemed to cross over to viewers in Taiwan, China and the Philippines.
China, especially, has a large fanbase for Yes Or No, so much so that the leading actors have visited the country several times for meet-and-greet events.
The Thai film wasn't released in China due to the government's restriction on homosexuality, but Chinese fans were undaunted and started an online community with members who had seen the film on the internet or from DVDs purchased elsewhere.
After a year of hearing the demand from fans who wanted the love story of Kim and Pie to continue, the film's producer decided to revive the project and began filming Yes Or No 2, which will hit theatres next month.
At a press conference for Yes Or No 2, we spoke to director Saratsawadee Wongsomphet and two cast members: Supanart, who plays the tomboy Kim, and Apittha Klay-udom, who plays the new girl Yam.
Could you share with us how Yes Or No came about?
SARATSAWADEE: The film was inspired by the books, Yes and No, published by Come On Sweet. The publisher was keen to turn the stories into film. Later, we turned it into a script, and I was asked to direct. This is actually my first film, after working as assistant director for a long time.
Did you ever have doubts while making the first Thai lesbian film?
SARATSAWADEE: Although society has become more open about homosexuality, we knew that the film we were producing was controversial. In fact, at first, we had a problem convincing the investors when we proposed the idea of a film about two girls in love. But we believed that people would enjoy the film, because Yes Or No is a feel-good, romantic story. Our film is unlike many lesbian-themed films, especially those you may find at film festivals, which tend to have a sad ending. Something like Boys Don't Cry for example. In Yes Or No, the story focuses on the importance of family who will always be there for you whenever you need help or advice.
Did you receive a lot of negative comments?
SARATSAWADEE: Yes, we still get people posting such comments in YouTube or our facebook page. Something like, "Don't you know your film is setting a bad example for the young generation?", or "The film will turn them gay". I just want to tell them that being gay is not a disease or infectious. Moreover, we are at a moment where gay rights are recognised in many countries around the world. And we hope that the film could give them a better understanding about this issue.
Did you ever think that Yes Or No 2 would be possible when you made the first one?
SARATSAWADEE: Not at all. We thought it was just a one-time project. After the first film, we received great feedback from both Thai and foreign fans who really wanted to see this love story continue. I can say that Yes Or No 2 happened because of the fans.
As a lead actress, do you have anything in common with your character Kim?
SUPANART: Not really. Kim may have a tomboy look, but she is very prim and proper. She is very neat when it comes to housekeeping, but I am the opposite. I also had to learn to play the ukulele for this role.
When you were chosen to play this role, what was the reaction of people around you? Any disagreement?
SUPANART: My family had nothing against the role. But I had a problem with my mother because around the same time that I got the part, I just passed an entrance exam to study at the university in Chiang Mai.
Taking this job meant that I had to give up the school in Chiang Mai and stay in Bangkok. My mother was quite upset about it, but my sister explained to her that this was a great chance for me. Finally, my mother allowed me to further my college degree here in Bangkok and I could also act in this film.
Have you ever asked fans what made them go crazy about the love story of Kim and Pie?
SUPANART: Being a woman is tough in China, let alone to be a woman who loves another woman. Some of them told me that the happy-ending love story of Kim and Pie gave them hope and fulfilled their fantasy.
Do you have a girlfriend?
SUPANART: No, I don't. I actually find both boys and girls attractive.
What is your opinion about the love between two girls?
APITTHA: I think love is love, no matter who you are. And I can say that people can relate to both Yes Or No films no matter what their sexual orientation is.