Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang is erasing borders. After three feature-films similar in tone and energy (Fun Bar Karaoke, 1997, 6ixtynin9, 1999, Monrak Transistor, 2001) he broke away in 2003 with the Prabda Yoon penned Last Life in the Universe, a melancholic study on alienation and cross cultural connectedness that starred Japanese actor Tadanaobu Asano and was shot by Australian-born cinematographer Christopher Doyle. His new film "Invisible Waves", currently in post-production, takes things a step further, reuniting the old team of Yoon, Asano, and Doyle, but adding to the mix a new location (Macau), and a new female lead (Korean actress Kang Hye-jeong from Old Boy fame).
Pen-Ek was recently in Singapore for the 5th Asian Film Symposium and Inaugural Forum on Asian Cinema, where a retrospective of his films were presented. A day after an intense and thorough panel session on his work, I sat down with Pen-Ek to discuss other things: his background, growing up, the Thai film industry, and why he makes films.
Alexis Tioseco: How are you doing so far here in Singapore?
Pen-Ek Ratanaruang: Great! To be honest, actually I told Bee Thiam just now that, when I was invited I expected to be bored with this thing, because I thought it would be so academic, and I've never been around nerds, you know what I mean? I thought it would be full of nerds, and I'm the only who like. I make films, but I'm not really like.
AT: Psychotic, or read deeply into it?
PR: Yeah, and it's like when I watch films it's either I like them or I don't have any [opinion]. I don't sit down and analyze it. One of my favourite films is Notting Hill. And I cried every time when I saw it. [both laugh]. But then again, you know, I also like Bergman's films. I mean for me, you know. [trails off]
AT: The way I see it you take them on a much lighter level. Like what you said [during the Q&A panel session the day earlier] "I won't die if I can't make films anymore".
PR: Yeah, I'll be sad, maybe for a few months, because I like it, I like doing it. I think I'm addicted to it; just to see this thing come alive. It's always exciting. Even when it doesn't work it's still very exciting. So I don't have that kind of. I don't go into a movie and analyze things. So I thought I'd be so bored and I wouldn't know what to do, you know, being around all these nerdy people. And- there's not a single session that I've attended that I didn't enjoy. It's still academic, but I think he balanced the guests quite well. I think he did.
AT: Yeah. Because there are no panels that are strictly academic. Sometimes there'll be academics, but there'll be a balance between the two sides.
PR: Right, right. Like the session you were just in right. The balance was really good, you know. And I think, let's say, without [Tan] Pin Pin, it would not be this. So it's like the session I was in this morning. Daniel, and me, we're the opposite, but we're almost the same. So I think he balanced the guests, luckily. I don't think he planned it, but luckily...it worked. So, so far I really enjoy every session I attend.
AT: And it's nice that the setting is quite small, quite intimate. So that even if there isn't a hundred people, even if there's twenty or thirty, it's still a nice feel.
PR: Yeah, yeah. And Zai, Zai Kuning's session was brilliant. That-- that for me was a revelation. He actually inspired me to make a film now.
AT: Something to do with a specific people or tribe?
PR: No. It's just that what I discovered was that, and I told Zai, "you know that you inspired me to make a film now?" And it's going to be really challenging, it's like because, he didn't like interviewing people right? So he just writes! He just writes all this text. "I asked him this, he said this. I asked him this he said this." He just writes them. And then sometimes he would show some shots that he shot. With his music. Normal sound. And the fact that he edited on iMovie, you only have two tracks, so you can't really do complicated stuff.
But I found his films really moving. So moving. And I found that the text really moved me. Because when I was reading those texts, I saw pictures. And he didn't even have to show it! But when you're reading the text, you kind of shoot the film in your head, according to his text. And I thought, this is fucking brilliant. Maybe I'll take it even further. So I'm thinking that I'm going to make a film with text.
AT: The whole film?
PR: Yeah! With text. But then again you could even take it further, instead of just one elegant text you can actually make the text pictures. Like when somebody shouts, the text really shouts. With different fonts.
AT: Yeah, the way it looks.
PR: So I'm really thinking, mapping out seriously a film, that is just writing. And the thing is people don't write anymore. People don't write anymore and don't like reading anymore. I think what really inspired me is that it was so brave that he did that. And it's not even out of bravery, it was out of necessity, because- he didn't have the interviews.
AT: Yeah, he just spoke to them, and then wrote from memory. There's actually this website [Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries Presents, see related links], where this guy, he's from Korea I believe, makes these flash things - I actually e-mailed him once but he didn't want to talk about his background or anything, as if to say "I think this is enough". I'll e-mail it to you, the link. And it's all textó text and sound and music. There's one that is really, really moving. The words move along with the beat of the music, it's akin to the music. But the whole thing is about when Korea was bombed [note: the title is OPERATION NUKOREA].
PR: Right. Right.
AT: And it's describing the events. And you know, you read it, you're just reading this text, which is actually quite long, maybe 15-20 minutes, and you're actually almost in tears by the end of it because of the picture it's painted in your head. It's really very, very moving.
PR: We can even go back and talk about Chris Marker's film, the one that inspired 12 Monkeys.
AT: Yeah, Le Jetee.
[waiter interrupts to ask if Pen-Ek would like more coffee]
PR: Those are all.
AT: Just still pictures.
PR: La Jetee. That was just still pictures, but it was so, so moving. So yeah, so far my trip has been a really wonderful surprise. Because I expected to be really bored, but now everyday is like, really good. Really cool.
AT: You mentioned that your parents lived in London.
PR: Yeah. My family.
AT: Did you ever live there?
PR: No I did not. Because, I was too small, I was just born, and they had to leave. I was too little. My father was still young at the time. They were young, and to just take care of the job, in a totally new place, new environment, speaking English, and my two older sistersóthat would be too much for them already, so they kind of left me with my grandmother. With the idea that after they settle down, after like six months or a year, they'd come back and take me. So when they settled down, they wanted to come back and take me, but of course by that time my grandmother was so attached to me, to this little baby, that she said "no way, you're not taking him away from me" [laughs], so I never went. He worked for the BBC radio.
AT: What was he doing for them?
PR: I think he did sports programmes. Tennis and stuff.
AT: And then you went to study in the US for college?
PR: For high school first.
AT: Ah, for high school first?
PR: For high school first. I was kind of kicked out of my old school in Thailand.
AT: The boarding school that you went to?
PR: Yeah. Well not kicked out, they kind of asked me to leave. They didn't kick me out.
AT: Why? [laughs] What was it for?
PR: I. burned a teacher's house. [hesitant laugh]
AT: His house? [laughs]
PR: [laughs] Well yeah. We didn't want to burn the house. We wanted to burn the mattress. But the mattress was in the house. So. that's not. very good you know.
AT: You might. might get into trouble for something like that.
PR: Yeah, yeah. [laughs]. So I was kind of asked to leave. So I left. And I went to the States and went to High School.
AT: Where were you in the states?
PR: The high school that I went to is in a small tiny town near Philadelphia. For two years. I was the only foreigner in the whole town. So wherever I walked, people would come and look. Like "why is he walking with his eyes closed?" [laughs]. For the Americans your eyes were so small. [both laugh]
PR: So I was there for two years, and after that I went to New York to University. In Brooklyn. So I studied in University for four years.
AT: What did you study?
PR: I studied history. Art history. And when I finished school, I worked. I was an illustrator for about 2-3 years. Drawings and stuff. I worked in this design place. Graphic design.
AT: Hand-drawings and graphic design?
PR: Yeah, yeah. Well, that time was way, way, way before computers. So I did that for about three years, and then I left.
AT: What made you decide to go back to Thailand?
PR: I just missed home. I love New York, I really loved it. And the time that I was there was early 80's. It was the perfect time to be in New York. There was Andy Warhol. And the Ramones were at their peak. David Byrne just started out with Talking Heads. They were still playing in small clubs and things. So at that time it was great. Jean-Michel Basquiat just started. Keith Herring. And a lot of my friends were in the arts, in the visual arts. Actually the abstract expressionist just started. People like Barbara Krueger. So that time it was brilliant. Laurie Anderson was kind of, not starting, she was already established, but really at her kind of..
PR: Yeah, yeah. So everything that happened in New York around that time was just really, it just blows you away everyday. Everyday there was always someone doing something really groundbreaking. And then, I came home one summer to Bangkok, just for holidays, for like two months.
AT: Did you go to back to Bangkok often?
PR: [shakes head]
AT: Not often, or not at all?
PR: Since I've left, 18 years ago. I only went back once. Last year.
AT: Oh no, I meant when you were in New York, did you go back to Bangkok often?
PR: No, no. During the nine years I was there [in New York], I went back maybe twice.
AT: And then now you've barely gone back to New York.
PR: No. And I don't miss it. But when I go there, like last year, I really do enjoy it.
AT: You showed your films there?
PR: Yes. Last Life. To promote it, because it was going to be released there, so I had to go there. They put it in the Tribeca Film Festival, so I went there for that.
AT: So you really missed Bangkok and decided to go back?
PR: Yeah I came back one summer and I spent like a month, in Bangkok, and life was so great, and I kept thinking "what am I doing in New York?". I pay half my salary to the rent, and I have to do my own laundry. Sometimes you run out of underwear and you still don't want to do it, and you have to worry about what you will eat that evening. But when I was back in Bangkok the quality of life was really great, so I thought yeah I'll come back. And I went back without anything to do. A friend of mine just asked me to go. I was supposed to go and work in a refuge camp. At that time it was like 1986, so all the Cambodian refuges before they go to America or to Europe to live, they have to come to this camp at the Thai-Cambodian border, and in this camp there would be NGO's and volunteers, like what I was supposed to go to do. You teach them English, and teach them how to use toilets and things. It's really to prepare them to go to a western lifestyle or country. And I already got the job, but when I left New York I didn't go straight back to Bangkok, I went to Germany to visit my sister. And I took a two day trip to Berlin. And I just totally fell in love with Berlin. So I stayed. For six months.
AT: Six months in Berlin?
PR: Yeah. [laughs]
AT: I just went there for the first time this February for the festival. It's great.
PR: Right. And Berlin at the time that I was there, there was still a wall. The atmosphere was still really tense. Really strange place, I really loved it. So I stayed for half a year there.
AT: What did you do while you were there?
AT: Living off savings?
PR: Yeah. I made some money before I left New York, because of my work. So I made a little of money, I just lived off of that. Go to coffee shops and sit, and play chess with some people. Write. I go to the Bauhaus Museum often because I love the buildings. Just beautiful buildings.
So basically I kind of made an architectural tour, because I like architecture. Just watching architecture, and buildings and stuff. And that was great. So by the time I got back, a friend of mine had tracked me down, in Berlin. He was in Bangkok, but he managed to track me down through my parents, and he got a hold of me. And he said, "So what are you going to do when you come back?", and I said I'm going to work in this place, a refuge camp. So he asked me to come and see him when I went back, and he asked me to work in advertising, to help him. So I did. I didn't know anything about advertising, but it sounded interesting, so I went in and did it, and I never left.
AT: This was his company? A small company?
PR: No, no. He worked for a huge company. But he needed people he liked and that he could trust. So he asked me to go and work for him. I did, and I was in this advertising agency for like four years. And this same friend left, long before [the end of my four years], and he started a production house that shoots commercials, that makes TV commercials.
AT: What were you doing in the advertising company?
PR: I was an Art Director.
AT: Akin to production design?
PR: Art Director is for prints. You go on still shoots and you make your layouts and things like that. And you design posters and stuff. So when he started his small production house he asked me if I was interested in trying directing. I said sure why not. So I did, and for some strange reason, I could do it quite well [chuckles]. Without any knowledge, I could do it really well. I won a lot of prizes, and I loved it! I really loved it. I did that for like five years and then I made my first film. I wrote the script, and went to see people with money, and one day this studio gave me money to make it. And they still finance my films up to now.
AT: Same people?
PR: Yeah, same people.
AT: Before that, did you have any inclination towards filmmaking. Wanting to get into filmmaking, or wanting to direct?
PR: I love films. Since I was in New York, I was always going to see films. And actually, I discovered cinema there. Because before that I had no interest in cinema, in film. And even when I was in New York I was watching normal films, all these Hollywood films, and then one day I went to see 8 Ĺ, just because of the poster. This black and white poster with Marcello Mastroianni with that hat. And the poster was just so handsome. It was so beautiful. With the lettering of 8 Ĺ, and the 8 is really elaborate, really Art Nouveau kind of thing.
AT: And the background is the carnival, or the parade scene.
PR: Yeah. So I went in, by myself, and at the end of the film I was completely blown away. I didn't understand shit, I didn't understand at all "what is this?" you know, but. it was so sexy to me. It was so attractive. That was the first film in my life that actually sort of gave me the idea thatóthis guy can make films? This is film? Then I started to become interested in Fellini, so I'd see more films by him. And then that lead to Bergman, and Godard. And you know, the usual stuff, Truffaut, and Fassbinder. And, so I discovered this art cinema that I found really to my taste. Like [really excited] I really like this! I really like all these stuff. And half of them I don't understand. It's a big mystery that you don't even understand it but you find it so seductive, so beautiful. So in a way I sort of caught the cinema virus there. But of course I never had the idea that I want to do this, I couldn't. It's beyond your capabilities.
AT: Yeah, you mentioned during the talk that you thought it was something that geniuses did.
PR: [laughs] Yeah, yeah. You have to be a genius to make a film. Because all these films [were amazing].. how can you do this? So I just kind of kept it as my obsession. Watching films.
AT: So was it after success in advertising and directing commercials.
PR: Yeah, you see, when you go into directing commercials you kind of move a step closer because you're handling cameras and you're using dolly tracks, and you're shooting people, you have to direct people. You have to say "do this, do this, no do it slower, no do this". So you get into something like this and then at the same time I was watching two or three films a day, at home, smuggled copies. At that time it wasn't as available as now. So you have this itch, like maybe you want to do it. But every time you have this itch, when you're swamped again with advertising work, or you did something well on this one commercial. Then you forgot about this itch. And that happened for many years. Until one day. it doesn't go away. So it's slowly kind of becoming a disease. That in the beginning was just a rash. You go like that and it's gone. You put some cream on it and it's gone. But after a while, the germ got stronger. It wouldn't go away.
AT: You had been directing commercials for how long?
PR: About five years, then. So then I said maybe I should try to write a story, and try to make a film. And I did. And that was my first film. That's why I never made any short films or anything like that. I'm a little embarrassed about it now though, because now that I've become a little bitó people invite me to film festivals and people know me a little bit now, and they always say "Pen-Ek, can we do a retrospective of your short films?". Because everyone assumes I went to film school. I said. "I don't have any". [both laugh]
AT: "Here's my TV commercials!"
PR: It's a bit embarrassing. There was one question yesterday, the guy asked me "How come you started so late? You started your first film when you were 37", and I. didn't know what to say. [laughs] I mean, come on, I was doing something else you know what I mean! [laughs] As important as film. I was doing something else. I was living life, I was doing something. [It's] because nowadays film is so hip. And so is the case of 'young genius'. You're 22 and you make a break-through and now its so common. But in Asia, especially in Asia, most directors have to start very late. Because they had to work under someone for a long time. You have to work under like Shohei Imamura for 10 years before you get to make your [first film], before you even get to help him write it. So in Asia it's not that if you're clever you can make a film. Because in Asian film, intelligence and cleverness doesn't count. You have to be a bit more mature. It's about emotions, and it's about what life is about. That's what our kind of films are about.
So I made my first film. I made it without any expectations at all. I just kind of wanted to see if I like it. Not the film, but to see if I liked the experience. Because even if that film had been successful, and I didn't like the experience, I wouldn't continue. But it turned out the opposite. The film was not so good. But, I really felt natural doing it. Almost like I was born to do this. And I knew exactly how to do it now, next. So I continued. From then, I just kept at it.
AT: There were people who worked with you in commercials. I think you mentioned it earlier but I wasnít there when you mentioned it. Ho Yuhang, he worked with you?
PR: Yeah he was my assistant when I [would] shoot in KL. I shot a few commercials in KL. I shot three actually, and two of them were banned.
PR: Banned, yeah.
AT: In KL?
PR: Yeah in KL. And when I shot in KL, I actually shot for Yasmin [Ahmad. Malaysian director of Sepet]. She was the Creative. And I shot her films, three of them.
AT: You shot it as in, she was the Creative Head, and you directed it?
PR: Yeah, she came up with the idea. And then I was the one who would say I donít like this or I donít like that, we [would] change it together, and then I direct the commercial. And we always talk. Every time we meet, we talk about our work for only about ten minutes but the other two hours we always talk about feature-films, because sheís really obsessed with films. Sheís like a fucking encyclopedia. She knows every film by Satyajit Ray. And we like each other very much. I would like to think that just the fact that I continue to make films; Iíd like to think that maybe that inspired her a little bit. Every time I would see her I would see ďYasmin you should make a film! You should make a film; please make a film. Next time I see you I want to see a scriptĒ. So we would always talk about that. And Yuhang was my assistant, my AD.
AT: Have you seen his films?
PR: Not yet. But I want to see Sanctuary, I really want to see it.
AT: Itís quite good. Itís funny because his personality is so funny, heís such a character, but his films are all very, very serious.
PR: He is a very serious guy. And heís a very good friend with Tsai Ming Liang. Which is funny because I mean Tsai Ming Liang only makes comedies! Tsai Ming Liangís films are so funny. And Yuhangís is, from what I heard, is so serious,
AT: Heís quite the comedian now, whenever heís at film events. They screened Sanctuary at SIFF, and there was a lady in the audience who asked him ďif you had to pitch this film, how would you pitch it? If you had to try to sell it, how would you sell it?Ē. And then heís like [in imitation accent] ďI wouldnítĒ. And the lady says ďBut if you had toĒ, and Yuhang replies ďI wouldnítĒ (Pen-Ek, in Yuhang imitation ďI wouldnítĒ [laughs]). ďItís not the type of film people will make money from. Itís not a good idea for me to try and sell it. It would be cruel. I canít do it.Ē [both laugh hard], ďI make it because I like itĒ.
But were there other filmmakers that ADíd for you, in Thailand?
PR: No, no. My AD has been trying to make films for such a long time, and I keep discouraging him.
PR: I keep discouraging him: ďThereís no way you can make a film. You should be a producerĒ. But my crew, itís like the same crew on every film. So weíve been together for a long time. Because itís easyó you have people who actually grow up with you. They understand your taste. And at their own department, now, theyíve become much better than me. That I donít have toÖ
AT: ..give them instructions anymore.
PR: Yeah, Iím not even worried. So I can work more with actors and really focus on the film. It really helps..
AT: Did you like a lot of Thai cinema growing up? Had you been exposed to Thai cinema?
PR: Not so much, because I left Thailand when I was really young, when I was like 15, 14. And that time, like I told you, I was not very interested in cinema. I was interested in soccer. I was in the soccer field everyday, from morning to night. I wanted to be a soccer player. That was a big thing for me. But just after I had become more interested in films, I went back and looked at a number of them. The classic Thai films.
AT: I wanted to ask you. Iím sure youíve been asked before. It is about your place in Thai cinema. You said yesterday that you make films with a Thai audience in mind. But sadly, sometimes, theyíre not there. Itís quite similar with some Filipino directors. I cite him a lot, but I think heís one of the best in the Philippines right now, Lav Diaz.
PR: Right, right.
AT: He makes films for Filipinos, but his audience is very limited. [His films have only] a few screenings. How do you feel about that? How does that work for you?
PR: I donít feel anything. I have a small following in Thailand. I mean, these people always watch my films. Yes, of course I wish for a bigger audience and stuff. Because you know, my films, even those that are personal stories, and have personal angles, when it's released in Thailand, itís a big release.
AT: A wide release.
PR: Yeah. Itís a big release. Because the money is from a big studio. So they figure ďwe might as well just release it bigĒ. So itís a big release, and theyíve always lost money. Because the prints themselves [are so expensive]. So with Invisible Waves weíre going to do a small release for the first time. I kind of forced them to do that for the first time, to experiment with that. To be honest, Alexis, I donít think about these things. I donít have any resentment, I donít feel bad, or anything like that at all. For me, itís already good enough that you can make your next film, wherever, the money comes from. Because now, Iím not unknown, Iím known in Thailand, in Thai cinema, Iím known. But it works in reverse, it gets harder to get finance. Because the fact that you are known, in a way you have defined yourselfó that ďthis is meĒ. So for studios to say ďlets give him moneyĒ [is rare], theyíll give it to someone younger instead, who actually has no record.
AT: But who they canÖ
PR: Yeah, maybe they think theyíll manipulate them. Or even if they canít manipulate them, at least they donít have a record. Where for me, I have one. And actually with my first three films, especially Monrak Transistor, everyone suddenly had hope that ďoh maybe heís learned his lesson, heís going to do something commercialĒ. And then when Last Life came out they were all shocked because, itís my worst box office in Thailand.
AT: But your first three films they at least made their money back?
PR: No. Not in Thailand. They made their money back overseas.
AT: But not in Thailand. In Thailand they were allÖ
PR: No. They all lost money. Even Monrak.
But for me, itís good enough to continue making films.
AT: The tension that I see, like with Lav Diazís filmsóhave you heard of him? He made a film called Batang West Side and one called Evolution of a Filipino Family
PR: Mmm, mmm, mmm [agreeing while drinking]
AT: His films are quite esoteric. The fact that you make an 11-hour film limits your audiences. Even among hard core film fans, it limits your audience! So the tension that I see with him, and I understand his points. But he says ďI make films for Filipino people, period. It goes to festivals and stuff, but Iím making them for my people.Ē And the tension there is taking steps in the work itself, not after its finished but in the work itself, to appeal to those people. Is that something that you consider?
PR: I think at the end of the day you have to admit that you make these films for yourself. I think, in the end. Because people like Diaz, or even Apichatpong. Like Apichatpong, heís a visionary. He is a real visionary. He is an artist. Iím not. The way I make films is purely out of curiosities. Thatís the only thing that drives me. I donít plan my career, I donít have a career. Each project that I work on is just a combination of what I want to say at the time, what question I have in life, what Iím obsessed with at the time, plus, things that are forced upon me. And then I combine them, and see what I come up with. And thatís the way I make films.
Because Iím not a visionary, I hope, and I work towards that one I would have my own film language, my own voice, that is what I hope for. But since Iím not trained to do this, while Iím making these films, Iím also learning how to make films. So for me curiosity is the biggest thing for me. I would stop making films if Iím not curious. ďMaybe you should try to do this. Maybe you should try to do it and see what happensĒ I donít have, and I donít want total freedom. If I had total freedom, I wouldnít know what to do with it. Even when I have freedom, I myself sit down, and give myself restrictions. You can say those are challenges, depending on how you look at it. But, so I make films that way. [There are] certain things that people force upon me, and I look at it and say, ďis it acceptable?Ē. If it is not acceptable I say no, and I donít get to make a film. Or then we move on to another choice or whatever. But if I look at the choice, the thing being given to me, and then I say ďthatís acceptableĒ, or ďI want to find out too what would happen if I put this thing in my filmĒ, then I say yes. So at the end of the day I donít even have time to think about who I made the film for. Except I made the film for my curiosity. But yes, Iím a Thai filmmaker. First and foremost. So, it doesnít matter if my help, even half of it speaks in Japanese, itís made by Thai blood. And that reflects in how long you hold a shot. How you place your camera. How you cut. A thai person would cut a film differently than a Japanese, or an American.
AT: Even with Christopher as a DP?
PR: I think, itís not really my job, to think about all these things. Itís hard enough to make the film, to finish it, and have it come out as something thatís good. For me thatís already a big challenge, everytime. So yes, I donít really know who I make the film for. But Iím a Thai filmmaker, so itís inevitable that Thai people would look at my work. But Iím not totally ignored in Thailand.
AT: Prabda said, when I interviewed him, that when your films come out in Thailand, itís like an event. Youíre on the cover of every magazine, youíre on the cover of a lot of things in Thailand. But a lot of the films, like youíve mentioned, have been commercial failures.
PR: Yeah, Iím more famous than my films, in Thailand. Itís a sad thing, but what can you do? You have to do these publicities because you want people to see your films. Even when Russia bought my film, when they were about to release it, I had to go to Russia to do press. Just because I want them to do well. Iím not going to see any one dollar of it, but if more Russian people can see how Thai people eat their meals in a movie, thatís a good thing, you know. And what they wear. I really do a lot of publicity. I hate it, I donít like it, but I try very hard to do it.
AT: You were talking about the Thai film industry now, and your disdain for it yesterday. What are your thoughts about the Thai film industry?
PR: Itís all hyped. You know, now, people shoot films for the trailers. They shoot footage for the trailers. Not for the film. And my friend had read somewhereó the guy who designs posters for meó not in a Thai magazine, but in a foreign magazine, that actually the Thai film industry does the best trailers. And we do. But the films are shit. But for them, no. In the past three years it's been proven that if you really blast the shit out of advertising, people will come and see the film. They donít care if people talk badly about the film after people see the film. They donít care, they already got 100 Million Baht, 80 Million Baht, the first weekend or whatever. For them that matters, and for me thatís really dangerous. I respect what I do. I donít take it seriously in the sense of academic serious, but I take it very seriously artistically. Aesthetically and artistically. The problem with Thai film and Thai society is that film is not art. Youíre even reluctant to call your film, Ďfilmí, when you promote it in Thailand, you have to call it movie. Because movie comes with popcorn. So for Thai people, film is pure entertainment. Itís entertainment. And I have no problem with that, because, like I said, I like Notting Hill [laughs]. Among other things, I do like it. And I like Meet the Parents [laughs], the first one. I thought it was really well done. The script was well-written. Good direction. For me I have no problem with film being entertainment, but I canít accept it being pure entertainment; I canít. For me itís art. No matter what you doó you can do the most commercial films, but, there has to be an artistry there. I never liked Steven Speilbergís films, but every time he has a new film out, I go and see it. And I have to say that even his crappy ones like War of the Worlds, there are moments in there that are pure genius.
[someone interrupts] Excuse me, do you know where is Stamford House?
AT: Stamford House? Iím not sure, sorry.
PR: No, weíre not from here [laughs]
[continuing] You know, like Minority Report is really gripping. And that scene where he took his eyes out and he had to look for them, and thereís all these bugs start crawling and he was in the bath tub. Every single shot in that sequence is pure genius. Okay, we donít talk about the end of the film because itís crap, but for one hour of that film, or that movie, it was incredible. Because it has artistry. Even in the biggest commercial film, there has to be an art in it. And I donít believe in that Ďeveryone can get to make a film nowadaysí. This comedian walks into a studio and they give him like 10 Million Baht to make a film, or like 50 Million Baht to make a film; to make people laugh and things. But imagine if I walk into a hospital and I saidÖ
AT: ďGive me a knife!Ē
PR: ďI want to try surgery. Do you have any patients? Iím going to try cutting him up.Ē No one will let you do it! Because you have to learn the craft, or you have to learn the science. Film is the same! When you start to give money to all these people to makeó itís not even a movie, itís, you donít know what it is, itís a show or whatever it isó then, it hurts. And thatís very dangerous. The Thai film industry. They said ďOh weíre doing really well. The whole world loves us. Look at Ong Bak, look at Tom Yung Goon Ē. But, I mean, come on. So that worries me. It doesnít hurt me, but it really worries me. I donít know why it worries me, but it does.
AT: How do you feel about working with other Thai filmmakers. You did the voiceover in Citizen Dog, and you showed Wisitís first film in Monrak. Are there are select directors you like in the Thai film industry?
PR: Yeah, weíre all friends and we try to help each other, because nobody helped us. And people like Wisit, you know, whatever you think of his films, I donít think his films are perfect, but heís a voice. He is. And I always joke that heís the Thai answer to Tim Burton. Because he doesnít compromise. I like people like that. And whatever I can do to help him, and [he does] whatever he can do to help me, because thereís only like five or six of us that kind; we have to help each other. I helped Nonzee, edited one of his films, so yeah we do help each other. And sometimes I donít even like his films, but that doesnít matter. The individual films donít really matter..
AT: You still respect ĒhimĒ.
PR: Yeah, because each film is an experiment. I think when you talk about filmmakers, when you talk about the art of cinema, you talk more about what is here and what is here [points to head and heart], rather than what is out here. And that is why people like Jim Jarmusch, I like him very much. I mean, some of his films are not that good. But how many people are like that now in the world. So when you meet people like this, you have to respect them. And when I respect someone, and they ask me to do something, Iíll do it. Immediately, Iíll do it. And itís a nice feeling to help each other. Because when you do something like I do, you are trained to be selfish most of the time. You are conditioned to be very selfish. You only think about yourself, you only think about what you do. Most of the time. I think when you can do things for other people itís a very good feeling. You choose who youíre going to help; who youíre going to do it for. And you donít even question it. You donít even say ďNo, but I donít even like this filmĒ. You donít.
AT: You donít want to impose yourself. Itís his work.
PR: You donít. Because people like this, the numbers are too little, in our lives.
AT: How do you feel about Apichatpongís work?
PR: [in serious and low tone] I love his work. I really love his work. And I really like him. Have you met him?
AT: No. No I havenít.
PR: Heís the sweetest, sweetest guy. Heís really a super, super nice guy. And heís unstoppable. Heís going to go REALLY far.
AT: Thatís the thing I find exciting, when thereís someone like that. On the one hand, you know theyíre not going to compromise. You know theyíre going to keep doing the work they want. And on the other hand, theyíre experimenting and still growing.
AT: And theyíre young.
AT: So you just have a whole world of work ahead.
PR: Yeah! He is a visionary, he is a real artist. I love...I love Tropical Malady. I like Blissfully Yours, but I love Tropical Malady. I was totally stunned. I was like ďwhy didnít it win the Palme DíOr?Ē after I saw the film. Because I saw Michael Mooreís film, and I thought it was so-so. I saw Old Boy, it was good, but I mean. But of course it canít win the Palme DíOr because itís too weird. I donít know him that well. We know each other, but Iím not close to him. Itís not like we talk to each other on the phone every day or anything, itís not like that, but we know each other well enough. I only have good things to say about him; about his work. I really enjoy his work.
AT: Have you ever thought about working with each other? Or helping each other out?
PR: There was a project that Apichatpong and I were supposed to work together on. It never materialized. It was not organized by him or me, it was organized by an old Thai director- I donít know if you know Cherd Songsri? Heís a classic, classic, director. He made a few classic Thai films that really stand the test of time. He made a film called The Scar. Thatís a brilliant film. Heís much older than us. But heís still very interested in my work and Apichatpongís work, he goes to Cannes every year and seeks out really weird films. And heís old. And he hasnít made any film for almost like 20 years.
AT: He must in his 60ís or 70ís?
PR: Yeah, quite old.
AT: And he had an idea for you guys to work together?
PR: With him!
AT: With him?
PR: Yeah we were going to do a story of this one guy, just this one person, and itís his journey through different stages of life. When he was young, when he was middle aged, and when he was old. And each of us, the three of us, would direct one age. I would do the old manís part, and Cherd Songsri would do the baby part, and Apichatpong would do the middle aged part. We thought it would be quite interesting.
AT: It sounds very interesting. What happened to it?
PR: I donít know. It just never pushed through. And I got busy on something else, and Apichatpong got busy on something else, and it never materialized. But itís an interesting project.
Iíll go to the bathroom, for one second. [leaves]
PR: Apichatpong is now producing for two young guys. That will be really interesting.
AT: People heís worked with?
PR: Yeah, yeah. Heís producing for them. [brings out a pack of tobacco, time passes, topic shifts]
AT: You met Prabda because his girlfriend was the actress in Monrak? At the crew parties?
AT: And then you asked him to write for you?
PR: Yeah [laughs]. Because I was at the point where I wanted to do Last Life but I didnít want to do what I wrote.
AT: You wrote your first three [films] entirely on your own?
PR: Yeah, and I already wrote Last Life. Finished. Actually I wrote Last Life even before I made Monrak Transistor. And I didnít want to make it. So I just put it away. Then one day my producer said ďyou want to work with Asano?Ē, ďyou want to work with Chris?Ē. And I said yes. And he went to Chris and said ďDo you want to work with Pen-Ek and Asano?Ē and Chris said yes, and he went to Asano and said ďDo you want to work with Pen-Ek and Chris?Ē and Asano says yes. And then he said ďPen-Ek, now we need a scriptĒ.
PR: So I took that script from the drawer, but I didnít want to make it like that. So I asked Prabda if he wanted to try writing a script. Because I [had just] read one of his books; I had never read his work before that. But heís so famous in Thailand, heís really famous.
AT: Which book of his did you read?
PR: Somebody gave me a book of likeóhe did film reviews. And itís all collected into this pocket book called ďMoving PicturesĒ in English, but itís in Thai. And I read it. And I found out that this guy hates the same films that I hate. He didnít like Run Lola Run at all. So I thought, if someoneís going to understand a little bit of whatís in my head, it might be him. So I kind of took a chance. And he kind of took a chance also, to work with me. We met, and I told him the story of Last Life. About this guy that wanted to commit suicide and found a girl. And then they lived together for one or two days, with all these gangster elements in it. And he just took it away. He didnít even take notes are anything. He just listened. And then he just went away for, maybe 3 months. Just dissapeared. And we had no contact, I never called him. But I knew Prabda to be a very disciplined person. So I knew he was doing something with it. But I didnít feel like one of those people that keep calling him to ask how its going. Because I donít like it when people do that to me when I work. I just left him alone for a few months, and then one day he e-mailed me the first draft. And it was wonderful [lights up]. I didnít like the ending, I didnít like some parts of it. But it really changes my script. I mean, the story is there, but its completely a different film. And the fact that he had never wrote a film before [was evident]; it was something that was so unfilmable.
AT: You said that it was sort of like a short story at first?
PR: Yeah, about 30 pages. There were some things in there that were completely unfilmable. Which actually showed that he didnít really know how to write for films. But it was those parts that actually wanted me to make a film; make this film. Like ďwhat if I try to do this?Ē, Iím really curious. I [could] film this, but, my challenge would beó Ďand the audience canít get boredí. That would be my challenge. Just to film this guy washing dishes for like seven pages. Or walking around the house when the girls not there; heís like snooping around the house, in that scene. To film something like that for like ten minutes. And you canít make the audience bored, or leave the cinema. That was my challenge. And I said ĎIíll make this filmí. So I took that and I wrote a screenplay out of itÖ
AT: How was the ending changed?
PR: Öand changed the ending. I think it was really soapy, really happily-ever-after kind of thing. Itís still in the film; he went to see her in Japan, and thatís the ending, and I didnít like it. And I didnít like some of the jokes that he put in. So I called him up and said ďPrabda, I donít like the ending, and I donít like this and that, but Iím not going to ask you to change it. Can I just hijack this scene from you. Iíll make the changes myself, itís faster.Ē And he said ďgo ahead, itís yoursĒ. So, immediately I knew that this guy had a really healthy ego. He has absolutely no ego, he has nothing to prove. Heís young, but he acts like an old man, you know [laughs]. So I really like him very much for that, and then I made the film. And then we liked each other so much that we continued with the new film.
AT: How was your original story for Last Life different. Was it just the tone that changed?
PR: Yeah. The story is there, but mine was more like 6ixty Nin9. Mine was more comedy, maybe more black comedy, more ironic. But I came to a point whereó Iím sick of being ironic, Iím sick of doing these kinds of things. So his version really [was different]. And I think the film kind of shocked him; because he didnít think he wrote this film. When he saw the end, the finished film, he was kind of shocked. Because during the course of the filming itself, the shooting, a lot of things changed. Because of Chrisí input; the way Asano acted. I would look at it and think maybe the film should go this way rather than this way. Last Life is a film that actually opened up a lot of possibilities of filmmaking to me. That maybe you donít have to know what youíre doing. To say that is a bit extreme, but I mean to say that with my experienceó Iíve done three films before I know how to control a filmó and with Chrisí experience, with Asanoís experience, thereís no way we were going to fuck it up. I knew that. Thereís no way we were going to make a piece of shit. Itís impossible. Even if you try. So I had that comfort. And like I said in the talk, I didnít know the people who gave money. So if I made a bad film, I donít have to see them again. So, I kind of went and said ďletís not know too much about what weíre going to do, letís just look for the filmĒ. And that film, the editing plays a really big really and no one notices it. Itís actually my editor who made us all look good.
AT: Yeah, I thought there were a lot of really great parts with the editing.
PR: Yeah, she cleaned it up. She cleaned everything up that would be embarrassing. Because the footage was quite a mess. And we kind of looked for the film in the editing. And then I start to realize Ďoh thatís another way to make filmsí, as long as you donít panic. You just keep looking. Maybe, it doesnít always have to be bad films. And at least youíre not as bad as Wong Kar Wai, youíre not as messy as him. Only five pages and he makes a film; that takes five years to shoot. Iím not even like that. So then I thought, that thereís nothing really to be scared of.
AT: So is it that film [Last Life] that was the most enjoyable to shoot. Obviously you had your problems with Chris at the start, butÖ
PR: No the most enjoyable shoot is Monrak, because you get to sing and dance all the time. You get to stage all these concerts and hear all your favourite music. It was great. But again, itís the kind of film where I didnít learn much. No, Last Life was really difficult; really difficult. And this new one is even more difficult. Invisible Waves I had to shoot the film so widely out of sequence, and I had never done that before.. Normally I shoot in sequence, because my films are designed to be small enough so that it can be shot in sequence. Like Last Life the moment they go to the girls house, you donít change locations, and you stay in that house for almost the rest of the film. So we can actually shoot it like it would really happen. And the actors really get to know each other little by little. So thatís why it works so well.
AT: So it was the one that you learned the most from. Because in terms of working with Chris, and in terms of the editing, it seems like the one that opened up a lot of things for you.
PR: I learned the most from 6ixty Nin9. I think after 6ixty Nin9 was finished I was actually kind of, a bit confident, like Ďnow I know how to make filmsí. I felt a bit like that because I learned so much throughout the whole process. But Last Life is not so much about learning, but it opens up another kind of filmmaking, for me, and exactly at the time when I really needed it. Because I canít continue doing [films] like the first few films anymore. And it came almost like a present, like a gift, with all the elements that you canít control. It came to me, like Ďyeah maybe this is another way to make filmsí.
AT: The finished work, what is up there on screen. What does it mean to you personally? How do you relate to it? Because it started with a script that you wrote even before Monrak. Is it very personal for you?
PR: Yeah. But itís not so important. Itís very personal and Iím proud, of them, but for me the process is a lot more important. I came to filmmaking because of that, because of the process. Not the film. I made my first film with the intention of ĎI really want to know if I would like it, if I would like going through this journeyí. I didnít make my first film thinking that Iím going to make a great film. I didnít even think about the film that much, as much as the whole process. And that has always been important for me. And that could just be a reaction [coming from] advertising, because when you work in advertising the end result is always so important. Because youíve made so many promises to so many people and theyíve expected a certain kind of thing. And you have to deliver. You have no choice.
AT: And you had two banned commercials in Malaysia! [laughs]
PR: And I have four banned in Bangkok.
AT: Really? What are they banned for?
PR: A lot of the times itís just sex and stuff. Itís not even sexy or anything, it just depends on how crazy the censors are.
I canít say that the finished film is not that important, it is, but itís not the most important [aspect].
AT: For youÖ
PR: Yeah. You still donít want to embarrass yourself, to be honest. You donít want something up there that will embarrass you. I donít think I can tolerate it. So you really have to work at it. Which means you care for the end product, but, itís not what you go in it for.
AT: So with Invisible Waves you have the same teamó Prabda, Doyle, Asano, and then you have the actress from Old Boy. Whatís her name?
PR: Kang Hye-jeong.
AT: And thatís the core of the film?
PR: And one Thai guy, one old actor. Who plays Asanoís boss.
AT: How did Invisible Waves come about? Did you have a story that was set somewhere else in Thailand, or want to make a film with this team?
PR: My idea was that I wanted to continue what we had started with Last Life. And to be honest, when I look at Last Life now, there are some certain moments in there where Iím a bit embarrased.
AT: What moments are they?
PR: I felt the film kind of goes like this. And then it goes uh! And then it comes back again. And then it goes uh! And those moments hurt me. Every time I look at Last Life now, I feel like I wasnít confident enough. I was afraid that it might be boring. So then the gangsters start to appear and slap each other on the head. But, I think in the end, we managed to conceal it in the editing, [so] that no one really noticed. Itís kind of like a red-bus or something of that sort. But for me personally, those moments, hurt me. So I say letís continue in this journey. But weíre making a completely different film. Invisible Waves is essentially a film noir. Iím a fan of film noir. All those black and white American filmsó I love. James Cagney, all those films I love.
So this time, I say, for better or worse, Iím not going to go like that [waves hand like a snake], Iím going to go like this [moves hand straight forward]. Even though, I donít know how itís going to come out. I promised myself that this time, Iím going to really go like that [moves hand straight forward]. And, I wanted to make a film in Macau. Because I friend of mine took me to Macau like 10 years ago, and I loved it. My friend was born there, he lives in Hong Kong, heís a Hong Kong guy, but he was born in Macau. Had a Portugese passport. He took me to his neighborhood where he grew up, and I just loved everything about it. I loved the peopleís places there, I loved the small alleys and stuff. So those were the things that I told Prabdaó I want to make a film noir, and I want to shoot in Macau. And he said, ďthis time, Pen-Ek I donít want you to write a script, I donít even want to co-write with you, I want to do it on my ownĒ. So I said ďPlease! Go Ahead! Less work for meĒ. So Prabda went to Macau for a month, and lived there. And wrote there. And then we have this script.
AT: How did you like it when you first read it?
PR: I loved it. I didnít really understand it. But, I donít need to understand a film to make it. I only need a few moments in the film that I feel personal with, and then I can run from there. And at the same time, with those moments, and my own obsession at the time. The film essentially is about guilt and about loyalty. I often feel guilty in my life. For no reason, I always feel guilty and I donít know why. [Perhaps] because Iíve hurt many people. Directly or indirectly, knowing it or not knowing it; Iíve hurt many, many people. You know, be it your mother, my mother, being my family, being my lovers, anything, my producers. Iíve hurt many, many people. Just because thatís a certain nature of mine, and also, just [with] the activities that you do, like filmmaking, you tend to hurt a lot of people, because you only think about yourself and your films. So Iíve always been guilty, and Iíve always felt guilty. And the older you get, the guilt is more apparent. Youíre more conscious of it. When you were younger, you were not so conscious of your guilt, because you have other things to look forward to.
AT: The past moves quicker.
PR: But when youíre a bit older, you feel the guilt more. So then I thought Ďwell this is a story about guiltí. And because at the beginning of the film, this Japanese cook, he kills someone. And he kills someone just to save himself. He didnít even want to kill her. Heís not a killer, heís a cook. He didnít even want to kill that person, but he did. And he carries that guilt with him, on board the ship, and goes off to Phuket.
AT: He killed the woman because of his adultery; sheís the bosses wife. And he [the boss] orders him to do it.
PR: Right, right. And Chris and I, when we were shooting this film, we called this film In the Mood For Guilt [laughs]. Sometimes he frames a shot and shows me and Iím like ĎChris this is not In the Mood for Love, fuck offí.
AT: It seemed like that one shot in Last Life, through the doorway, and theyíre both sitting at the tableó
PR: Yeah, yeah, yeah! [laughs]. We call it In the Mood and then he says ĎOh I forgot, itís not In the Mood For Love itís In the Mood for Guilt, letís change the shot. So it became a joke during the shoot that we call it In the Mood for Guilt.
And itís really the first time I came back to the editing room and I look at the footage and Iím like ĎOh my god, this time Iím going to really fuck it upí. Because we shot so much out of sequence that a lot of it is really guess work. And I had to direct more. Because normally I donít, normally I just watch, and see if something is not going right, then I adjust it. But this time I have to be the one who says that Ďyou have to do this, you canít do thisí and Ďgo slower, and go fasterí, because what we havenít shot, actually comes before this, and we havenít seen it yet, but maybe we should do this, this way. So for me, it was three times more concentration. And Chris is now so famous that now we shoot our film, and everyday you have to deal with press. One day itíll be BBC, and the next day itíll be Time Magazine, the next day itís the New York Times, and everyone is in Phuket, suddenly. And it really bothers me. And everyone comes to do a documentary on Chris, you know. So my next film when I work with him Iím going to say, Ďno-more-pressí.
AT: How did you and Chris meet?
PR: We met in Rotterdam, the year where I showed 6ixty Nin9, and he showed Away with Words. We met there, the first time. And we kind of just hung out together a little bit. And we have common friends, like my producer, Wouter [Barendrecht], he has been selling all Wong Kar Waiís films so heís a good friend with Chris and Wong Kar Wai, and Tony Leung and Maggie. And later Wong Kar Wai has become a friend as well. He saw 6ixty Nin9; he likes it very much. Iíve only met Wong Kar Wai twice. Once he wanted me to do something with him. He wanted to produce something for me. This kind of TV thing. About women. He got some money from French Television, or Korea. So he came to talk to me, and that was the first time that we actually met in person. And that didnít happen and we met again a few times.
AT: Was it a project you wanted to do?
PR: No. No I didnít want to do that project. But, Wong Kar Wai said he wanted me to do something. And itís about women, contemporary women, and he would choose maybe one director from Thailand, maybe two directors, or three from Japan, two from Korea, and [we would] do different episodes.
AT: And you shoot it in your own country?
PR: Yeah. Or any which way you want. He just gives you this amount of money, and if you can handle it, if you want to shoot in America you can. So at the time I had one little story that I thought would be fun to do. Which was like a lesbian vampire thing, called Pink Martini.
AT: Pink Martini?
AT: You should talk to Amir Muhammad. Have you met him?
AT: Malaysian filmmaker.
PR: Yeah, Iíve heard of him.
AT: He actually has a lesbian vampire story that he wants to do.
PR: Yeah. Who doesnít?! [both laugh].
AT: Itís quite a popular genre. One that needs reviving.
PR: Exactly! I mean, especially if youíre a bit sick. Then it works for you.
So I thought that would be fun to do with that money. A one-hour thing, or a forty minute thing. And shoot it with maybe one Korean actress and one Japanese actress. Because there are a lot of Japanese and Korean around my house. And Iíve always wondered what these Japanese housewives do during the day. So that would be a perfect thing to do. And you do almost like a ĎHitchcock Presentsí kind of thing.
AT: This is in central Bangkok, where you stay?
PR: Yeah. So itís like a little Tokyo there. And you can spot Japanese like three miles away, because of the way they walk, you know thatís not Thai. That would be fun to do. And you really go all out. They really get naked, and really go at each other. That would be an action sequence in my film. That would be like my Ong Bak.
AT: There you go!
PR: [laughs]. No wire. And no stand-in. But that didnít happen.
AT: Then you met him a second time?
PR: And I met him a second time when he came and gave an award to my producer, who passed away. Aom, I donít know if you know Aom [Duangkamol Limcharoen.Ė Ed.].
AT: Iíve heard of her, but havenít met her.
PR: He came and gave an award to her just like two months before she died.
AT: She was the producer of Invisible Waves?
PR: No, no, no. She was the producer of Last Life and Monrak Transistor. She died before Invisible Waves. But Invisible Waves, you might know the producer, itís Taona. Mingmongkol.
AT: Yeah, I met herÖhere! A year ago.
PR: So I asked Mingmongkol to produce my film, and she said yes. And sheís great. Sheís really dark. Her humour.
AT: Yeah, I met her here, at a Conference.
PR: Sheís really, really dark. Sheís not serious at all. Sheís really funny. Have you seen her film [I-San Special Ė Ed.]? Itís soÖshe makes fun of everybody! And she made it from Apichatpongís idea. Itís hilarious. The film is really hilarious. So yes, sheís my producer now.
AT: That must be a lot of work, considering the locations and how international your cast and crew is.
PR: You wouldnít believe it. Itís a nightmare. Just to get everyone together is just seriously a nightmare.
AT: Did you shoot a lot of footage?
PR: No, no. We shot very little. Thereís no close-ups in the film. Thereís just two close-ups, thatís it. And two of the close-ups were of bank-notes. Oh and one more, we shot in a lift, because you canít go that far back, so it has to be that. Thereís only three close-ups in the film. Itís just one master to another.
AT: You mentioned close-ups as well, during the talk. Is that something that you think is abused now in cinema? Is that why youíre trying to veer away from that?
PR: No, no, itís not at all. Itís just that as we shot the film, every time we would go in to a close-up, Chris and I would look at each other and go [shakes head] Ďforget ití. And it just happened that way. For this particular film, especially when itís film noir, you always think itís a lot of close-ups, so we go the other way. In the action sequence in the film, you see the actors like this big [puts thumb and pointy finger together] on the screen. And they run after each other. With this film it was my challenge to do something really complex with sound. Iíve always been really interested with sound. As I make more films. Iíve grown really fond of sound. And now I think of sound as fifty-one percent of the film, and the picture is only forty-nine. And I keep saying that to Chris everyday. And he gets really angry.
AT: Haha. I can imagine.
PR: Itís like ďdonít try so hard, your part is only fourty-nine percent of the film. Donít try so hard. Just be, natural, please.Ē So he kinda gets really angry when I say that.
AT: I understand though, a lot of the films I watch, if the picture is bad or shoddy, but the sound is still good, you can still pay attention. But if the sound is horribleÖ
PR: Itís amazingÖ
AT: You canít.
PR: Itís amazing. The sound is amazing. So this time I worked with a different guy, for the sound. A Japanese guy, whose a very good friend with Zai-- Koichi. Because he lives in Bangkok. Koichi is great. So we tried to do really complex sound sometime, and sometime itís so unrealistic. When youíre in a room, we use sounds from the forest, when theyíre outside. Or sometimes itís a long shot of Asano walking, and itís really long. Heís like that big on screen [puts thumb and index finger close together] and he walks along and we track along with him; but we put the mic inside his clothes, so when he moves, when he walks, you hear all these clothes. Like Ėcak-cak-cak-cak-, and when cars pass him, you donít hear the cars, you only hear the clothes, and his breathing. So, we really experimented a lot with sound on this part. Thatís why I mentioned to you [a few days prior] that a week before I came here, up to when I got on the plane, we didnít sleep, for seven days. We slept collectively one hour here, one hour there. When I go to sleep, someone has to be awake. When that person goes to sleep, someone else has to be awake. [As if] someoneís guarding a bank, you know. Because the sound is so complex, that its so hard to mix.
AT: The sound guy was the sound acquisition, as well as the sound mix?
PR: No, itís a different person. But they all come together in the mix. To really work with each other. Even the score of the film. And when you watch this film, when it comes out, you donít even know which is the score, which is the sound effects. Everyone kind of has overlapping duties on it. Itís really fabulous. And one night I had to re-dub a bit of the actors, so I had to watch these persons at home. It was a rough cut, the sound was not even completed, just rough sound. And just before I watched it, I smoked a joint, and I was by myself, and a little bit high. When I watched it, I had to turn it off. [laughs] And the next day I have to try to explain to the sound guy [both laugh] what it was like when you were high. And you canít remember. So that was a bit difficult. So we worked a lot on sound on this one. I hope itís going to be really, really great. Especially when he gets on the ship. When he leaves Hong Kong, when he gets on the ship to come to Phuket. The sound really starts to play. Because strange things happen to him all the way throughout. After he killed the woman, when the crime really sinks in, strange things begin to happen. And you wonder, did they really happen, or did he wish they happened? When youíre so guilty, you did something bad, sometimes you kind of wish that bad things happen to you. Itís kind of a form of redemption. Sometimes when I hurt someone and I feel so guilty, and bad things happened to me, I feel kind of good.
AT: That youíre suffering as well.
PR: Just one week before we started shooting, I ran through a plate of glass [points to restaurant window], like that, in the lobby of my producers building.
AT: On purpose? Or you didnít see it?
PR: No! I was smoking outside, and I saw the lift about to close, and I put down my cigarette and go Ďwait wait waití, and then go Ėbong! The door was there, and I just went here. Glass was everywhere. And blood was everywhere. And I was in the lobby standing there, with glass everywhere and blood everywhere, and I didnít know it was me. I thought Ďwho broke the glass, poor guy you knowí. And it was me! And suddenly I saw everyone looking at me. And I was cut a bit here [points to arm], so blood starts coming out. And then I realized, shit, itís glass. And then I saw my arm, it opens like that [points to a part of arm, making a gesture]. I could see my bone.
AT: Oww, shit.
PR: [pointing to a scar on his arm] Thatís forty stitches. Forty. Four-zero. [pointing to another spot] and thatís five. And thatís some more here.
AT: This was just one week ago?
PR: No, one week before we start shooting. So I had to go to the hospital. The doctor was stitching me up. I was quite shocked when I realized it was me. But then I kind of felt good. BecauseÖI did a lot of bad things before we started shooting. Because youíre so tense. And you yelled at a lot of people, you scolded a lot of people, you made a lot of people feel bad about themselves. And that moment kind of felt good; like I was punished. So in a way, Asano in this film is a little like that. All these bad things start to happen, little by little. So thatís why we made the sound so that itís not so real. Sometimes the sound becomes subjective, sometimes it becomes objective. Switching throughout the whole film.
AT: At what point did he go on the boat?
PR: Very early.
AT: The Korean actress is the one he kills?
PR: No, sheís the girl that he met on the ship. They start liking each other.
AT: It seems that starting Last Life youíre going towards, as was the subject of the talk, a transnational, transcultural, cinema. How do you feel about doing these productions? Are you more than glad to do them?
PR: Yeah. Because you get to work with Asano, you get to work with Chris. These guys are really good, I mean really good at what they do. And itís really a pleasure. Of course I donít get that pleasure when weíre shooting, because Iím too worried, too wrapped up in other things. But when you watch what youíve shot, these guys change your film, they take your film to a place where you yourself canít go. And itís a pleasure. At the same time, thereís a lot of pressure, on you. Because you know, when youíre a director, itís hard to enjoy your own shoot. If youíre a cameraman, and today, at the end of the day when you wrap, you get all the shots you like, and you canít believe that the shots are so beautiful and great, good compositions and stuff. Like Chris, everyday he goes ďPen-Ek, this film is going to be so great. Itís much better than Last Life, itís much betterĒ. And I said how do you know? I still have to edit the film, and I could fuck it up there. But for him, itís a pleasure to have shot the film everyday, with everything falling into place. For an Art Director, he sees the place, and it looks old, exactly the way he sees it, and it looks realistic and itís full of life. And heís happy.
AT: Heís already accomplished during the shoot.
PR: And for the AD, youíre not behind schedule. Itís perfect. For the producers, youíre not behind schedule, and everyoneís happy, and itís perfect. For me, I have nothing to be happy about everyday, because Iím so worried. Especially when everyone is doing so well. You go like Ďoh fuck, Iím going to disappoint them when they see the filmí. And you have that pressure everyday, and itís a lot of pressure. So itís a lot of pressure, and pleasure. But, Iíll do it again. Because at least the pressure is on you not because someone puts it on you. Itís the pressure that nobody puts on you, but the situation puts on you, or you put on yourself. Then thatís not so bad. At least no producers come and say ďyou should do this, you should do thatĒ.
[I receive I call from Yann Ling, of the Asian Film Archive, informing us we have to return to The Substation]
Pen-Ek Ratanaruang photo courtesy of the Inaugural Forum on Asian Cinema by Asian Film Archive and The Substation
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