And the Thai movie industry is a funded system? So, you're working outside of that as an independent filmmaker?
Here we call things independent, but they have largely been co-opted by the studios. Are you seeing a growing indie movement in Thailand?
In terms of video, yes. There's a lot of interesting video makers. But for films, it's still rare. You have to have one leg in the studio system to be able to show the film. So, basically, Syndrome and a Century will be the first film that is totally independent. Even my previous films, the studio bought them. So, after I saw what they did to my film in the past, I decided 'OK, I'll do it myself.' The end result? We had a problem with censorship. Even though in the theater, as you know, there are always ghosts and monks, running away from ghosts, and very crude comedy, but Syndrome, they are trying to ban it. We are talking to the Board of Censor, who are a bunch of policemen. They are trying to ban this film citing 'We're not sure that doctor can drink in the workplace,' and 'We're not sure if the monk can play guitar.' So, can you pay another hundred dollars to rent theater for the representative from the Buddhist Council and the Doctors Federations or something like that? So, next week, we're going to have these kinds of meetings and my representative will go and try to defend the film. It's quite a silly system.
Well, just yesterday, Thailand blocked access to all of YouTube because of one video clip about something they didn't like.
It was insulting the king.
I guess it's hard to understand, because we're so used to making fun of Bush...
It's different because the king, in our mind, is associated with... he's kind of like God. It's like Jesus, in a way. I don't know how to translate it into other cultures, but for us, the monarchy is something of the untouchable. You cannot say anything negative about them, otherwise you'd be executed, in jail, or whatever. It's hard for other people to understand this mentality that's been accumulated for hundreds of years.
I remember when I was in Bangkok riding on a tuk-tuk, and we'd pass the big portraits of the queen, and every time, the drivers would be 'That's our beautiful queen... our lovely queen...'
In a way it's kind of frightening for others, but when you grow up in this culture, you get used to it. And, of course, the palace only gives out a super-good image of the king, which is fine, because he's actually good. That's why this YouTube episode says a lot about how important is the monarchy to Thai people, and it says a lot also about how backward we are, how incapable of trying to assimilate with the rest of the other villages in the world.
And, you said Thai cinema has traditionally been more comedic and dealing with various mythologies. You're obviously coming from a much different viewpoint, so how did you develop your style? Was it a Western influence at school, or... how did you decide this is the visual language you wanted to use?
It's difficult to say because it's my life, so, you know, I grew up in a small town and I moved to Chicago to study, so it's just personal experience, and each person has a different path in life. For me, it's an accumulation of things, and people I meet, and my producer's French, so this all results in this work.
It just seems like a lot of people, if they want to go into movies, they take the image they already have of movies and try to adapt themselves to it, whereas you seem to say I want to make movies, but you didn't try to fit your vision into that mold, but had a desire to tell your stories your way.
It's personal, filmmaking. And, I even think it's an American attitude, no? The 'I don't give a fuck what you think!' kind of thing.
So, that's what you picked up from us? (laughs)
Maybe, yeah. (laughs) And I think it's really important in one's life to do this, because I'm really inspired by American experimental film. I didn't know it existed until I was in Chicago, and was really surprised that one can do a movie yourself by scratching film or by whatever technique. It's a one-person operation, like painting. So, a film can be pure art. A film can be compared to Kandinsky on the walls. So, it changed my idea of what is a movie. I guess it started from there and affected my lifestyle. But I'm surprised that there's not many more of this kind of film coming from America itself.
And when you went to school in Chicago, you studied architecture. How does architecture lend itself to filmmaking? They seem divergent to me.
No, it's the same thing. Appreciating things through time, you know, when you walk into the building, it's like the architect controlling your emotions of shadows and light and facing certain angles. But it always involves time. So, film is the same, but it's even more strict because you are limited to your seat, and a filmmaker hypnotizes you through time. It's similar in that way.
Since you make such personal films, what is it like on the set? Is it hard to convey your vision, because filmmaking is very personal, but it's also collaborative. To get the actors and every member of the crew to get what you're trying to do, is that difficult?
You've got to be quite a dictatorship to be a director. But, at the same time, for me, I'm really open, because I like the process of making films so much. It's an opportunity for you to meet lots of people from musicians, set designer, costume designer, lawyers, and journalists... you know, it's a very rewarding experience. So, that's why I try to put the personality of the people around me into the film. The prop man, and the actors, we talk a lot. It's like a family. The crew from the first film to now, it's almost ten years now with the same crew, so we speak the same language and with the editor, it's almost an unspoken understanding.
And I know you said Tropical Malady is your most personal film, but do they all go along one major theme, and play off that one major issue?
It started from one theme. For Tropical Malady, it's love, connection with others. And about the darkness, about the loss. Whereas in Blissfully Yours, it's the same, but I'm trying to understand about moviemaking as well. It's more about film, where Tropical malady is about my self, my love, my idea of lost love. But for Syndromes, it's about my parents. Memory is subjective, so there's no way to recreate an accurate picture of the life before I was born, so I decided it's a mixture of the people I like now and a story from the past. It's become something else.
And your not interested in making films that all deal with sexuality or gay issues?
Well, in one way, I can't avoid that because I'm gay. So, when talking about my life, there are always certain things and it's going to come up.
So, if you're gay and making personal movies, they have to have some...
That's part of the lens you are seeing through.
Yes, but I always present this thing as so natural. I don't believe in choice, that we are gay because we choose it. It's not our choice, but a pattern of life. It's... there's a seed and there's a flower, cause and effect.
Well, I always think more gay people pursue creative things because it puts you in a situation to examine why it happened. So, you take a step back and examine the world in a way that you wouldn't otherwise have to if you were straight... and then you start looking at every other system you believed in, and questioning it, too, because you have to redefine what is still true.
Yeah, I think that's why a lot of gay people become artists.