Veteran film director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, the man behind heartwarming rom-coms like Cherm (2005) and Kod (2008), talks to BK about his first independent film, P-047, which finally screens in Bangkok this month after premiering at the Venice Film Festival last year.
Where did you get the inspiration for P-047?
One of my assistants told me the story of losing the key to his apartment. When he called a locksmith, it turned out to be an old lady who arrived with her son. She showed him how to break the lock to get into his apartment. It was such a simple story but one that evoked both excitement and fear in me. The idea that there are people who can break into our houses at any moment inspired me to write the script, which won the Thai Khem Kang Award two years ago.
You’ve worked for big film studios before. Why go independent?
I feel as though I was lucky to have been given the chance, and the budget, to write and direct some projects that I really believed in. If films like Sayew (2003), Cherm and Kod were written nowadays, none of the big studios would be interested—especially Kod, the last film I wrote and directed, which wasn’t very successful commercially. So, I reached a point where I was finding it difficult to define myself—am I commercially-minded or indie? Some of the films I only wrote the script for [like The Letter (2004) and Happy Birthday (2008)] did much better at the box office than my own projects, so I decided P-047 should be produced independently. It’s not an easy film to promote, so I thought it wouldn’t be fair to put any commercial pressures on it. This doesn’t mean that I won’t go back and work for a big studio again. It just felt right for this project.
Have you changed the way you get messages across in your films since your debut, Sayew?
I think it’s just changed with the passing of time. I haven’t made any conscious decisions to change the focus of my films. I simply use each of my films to portray my thoughts and interaction with the world at that specific time in my life.
What’s been the hardest thing about doing an independent film?
The filming wasn’t really problematic. But I believe the biggest challenge for indie film makers at present is finding avenues of distribution. P-047 actually premiered at the Venice Film Festival back in September last year and screened at over 20 festivals abroad before coming to Thailand. We have to accept that cinemas are businesses, so it’s only natural that they’ll choose to screen films that will guarantee bigger audiences. But that has a flow-on effect in that people just aren’t aware of all the independent films out there.
You’ve been called the “King of Romance.” How does this film fit with that label?
I’m actually not too happy with that title. I don’t think I’m that romantic! Look at my films, they’re not sweet at all. I view romance as just another aspect of life to be experienced. I guess it’s based on some of the scripts I’ve been hired to write, but even then they weren’t simply tear-jerkers—I focus not only on the relationships between people but also between oneself and one’s thoughts. In Kod, my perspective is that everyone needs love because no one wants to be alone. But P-047 is definitely more about self-identity. If you’re expecting a love story, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Your stories often touch on the subject of homosexuality. Why do think a film like Insect in the Back Yard gets banned while Hor Teaw Tak has already chalked up four installments?
Firstly, I think there’s no problem with homosexuality in this country, nor is there with portraying homosexuality on film. The reason that Insect in the Back Yard caused such an uproar was down to the storytelling approach. But I don’t think we can apply the same standards to everything. I hate it when films are banned, but there’s a silver lining if it encourages people to fight for what they believe is right.
You’ve also just collaborated with DJ Suharit on his latest single “Love Lies Bleeding.” What are the chances of your band 4 Tao Ter returning to the scene?
The single was completely Suharit’s project and I didn’t know anything about it until he asked me to join. 4 Tao Ter never really split up. But all the members, including me, are busy right now with our jobs, so there are no plans for a new album or anything. Even getting together to perform at the Sonic Attack festival is challenging. But one day, if we all feel passionate about it, we’ll give it another go.
What kind of films do you see yourself making 20 years from now?
My films are always dealing with life’s problems, so I hope that in 20 years’ time they’ll be problems suited to my advanced stage of life! I’m jealous of filmmakers like Woody Allen who put out films nearly every year and their personality really shines through. His films are so sophisticated because he has been through so many things in life. I hope that when I’m at his age, I can produce a film that shows I’m not just getting older but I’m also getting wiser.