We were thrilled when we first heard that M.L. Bhandewanop “Mom Noi” Devakula would be behind a remake of Jan Dara, the controversial erotic film based on the 1966 novel by Usana Plerngtham. Nonsi Nimibutr’s version was a huge success in 2001, living up to his reputation for combining gorgeous production with skilled actors and intelligent screenplay. Sadly, even though the new version sets out to portray the dark side of sex and lust in old Thai society, it relies far too heavily on lots of gratuitous flesh. So it’s no surprise that the film, billed as “The Beginning,” will be followed by another later next year—which just means more sex scenes.
In short, this complex story follows the titular character (Mario Maurer) as he grows up detesting the abusive, womanizing ways of his father, Luang Wisanan (Sakarat Rithamrong), only to become just like him. The film opens with an elderly Jan Dara (Mario ridiculously made up to look old) recounting his past, starting from his birth, which caused the death of his mother (Savika “Pinky” Chaidech). This turn of events angers his father so much that he names his son Jan, short for Janrai (scum). Jan is raised by Wad (Bongkoch “Tak” Kongmalai), a cousin of his mother who later becomes his dad’s mistress and bears him a daughter, Kaew (Cho Nishino). Meanwhile, his only friend is Ken (Chaiyaphol Poupart), the son of a housemaid (Chudapa Chantakhet), who is one day accused of raping Kaew. After his dad welcomes another mistress, a wealthy widow from Phuket, Boon Lueng (Ratha “Ying” Pho-Ngam), who’s friendly to Jan, our protagonist helps Ken flee to Pichit, his mother’s hometown, which puts an end to his own relationship with Hyacinth (Pinky Savika), a Muslim girl he met at school. And that’s where this complicated installment lets off.
Compared to Nonsi’s version, Mom Noi tells the story at a much slower pace, putting more emphasis on character development. But there’s just one big problem. While the production is not without its plus points—some visually-arresting shots, costumes and an impressive score—the acting is a real shambles. Despite some promising exceptions, the likes of Mario, Cho and Tak are simply unable to make their complex lead characters believable. Cho, in particular, is an absolute nightmare—pretty much what you’d expect from a Japanese porn star who can’t speak Thai properly. Probably, she was hired for the role of Kaew (played last time by Patarawarin “May” Timkul) because no Thai actress was willing to do all the nude scenes. All she ends up contributing is broken Thai and wooden acting—oh, and her body. And as it happens, Mom Noi pads the narrative out with so many unnecessary sex scenes that we came away remembering nothing but boobs. And that’s not always a good thing.
At this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), Thai indie film director Jakrawal Nilthamrong, 38, scooped one of the festival’s three top prizes, the Tiger Award, for his first feature-length movie, Vanishing Point. Here, the Thammasat University film lecturer discusses the car crash that killed his parents and inspired the movie, and what he's working on next.