Lee Chatametikool, 38, has been editing films alongside director Apichatpong Weerasethakul for years. Now the award-winning editor has directed his own movie, Concrete Clouds (in cinemas now), inspired by the 1997 Tom Yam Kung financial crisis. BK talks to him about learning from past mistakes and why he would like to study economics.
I loved going to the video rental shop, and I also did a lot of creative writing at school. There were teachers who pushed me in this direction, so I realized it was probably the right thing to do. I applied to study film at NYU. When I got in, I really felt I had made the right decision.
I decided to come back to Thailand because I love living here and want to make Thai movies. I want to make movies about what I experienced growing up here. I’ve been lucky enough to work as an editor with directors like Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
I’m interested in Thai economics and history, and wanted to find a way to incorporate these in fiction. Thailand was in a state of depression, a kind of after-shock, when I came back to visit in 1997. There were derelict buildings and empty roads. It inspired me to make Concrete Clouds, which is about people’s lives during the Tom Yam Kung financial crisis.
I saw the impact on a lot of my friends. Some of my friends whose parents ran businesses lost everything, some friends who went to study abroad needed to return home. It was like the deconstruction of many people’s dreams.
Everything seems harder when you get older. I believe we reach a turning point between the ages of 18 and 30. When you are 18 everything seems open and you can do anything, but when you are older everything seems harder. Once you have already chosen a pathway, it’s difficult to restart again.
It’s like Thailand reached its thirties in 1997 when the economic crisis hit. Looking back, Thailand was 18 when McDonald’s and overseas investments started in 1985 and we chose the path of capitalism. And Tom Yam Kung happened when we were 30.
It’s not a failure if you learn a lesson from it. I don’t think Thailand is a failure, even with the political situation as it is today. It’s just a step back that you take to go forward. The economic bubble may have been a missed opportunity, but it was not a failure. There were plenty of positives during that time: independent entities, the rise of consumer awareness. So, yes, the crisis changed us hugely. It’s bittersweet.
Changing from editing to directing was very difficult, not knowing whether it would work or not. You need to just have faith in yourself and your crew.
Thailand’s film scene has more potential than many other countries’, in terms of alternatives. I’m not being biased, but looking at Thailand now, mainstream films have their own market, while there’s also a lot of room for indie movies. More and more festivals are popping up and the audience is growing! All the indie directors here have their own unique style, too.
I love the pressure of making movies. It’s not like making an artwork where you can create freely, spend whatever you like, and then present it in a gallery. There are factors such as budget, and the dictates of the market. It’s a kind of art that’s very realist.
I’m happier being an editor than directing. I was happiest when I studied and got to edit my own films. At that time, you needed to cut the film manually and hang it in a dark room to piece it together. There’s some kind of magic in that. I really enjoy narrating stories through editing.
I love to see movies that linger and make me think. I still remember that I didn’t like Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love when I first saw it. But a day later I was still thinking about it. I started talking about it with my friends, and I gradually came to like elements of the film more and more.
I love the feeling of watching a film in the cinema. Some movies are just made for it: you can really appreciate all the detail. But I understand, there are lots of alternatives now. UK distributors are currently trying to find alternative spaces for film, like on the second floors of pubs. It’s important we keep this audience because otherwise there may no longer be space left for film.
I dream of going back to study economics. I want to understand capitalism more in order to empower people to reach their dreams. When I make movies, the impact is too intangible. I want to develop infrastructure to allow people who are not in the movie industry to gain access to resources. I want to spread the creative space to other parts of Thailand.
Passion can’t be forced. You need to be brave, shed your fears and grab it!