Cinema

Thunder Thais

Jan Dara  

It was 2001 and the British Film Institute London Film Festival was in full spate. As usual, there was a lull amidst the storm of screenings, a gap that could only be addressed by yet another screening. Artwork of a comely barebacked lady reclining on a bed with a young man rubbing ice cubes between her shoulders caught my eye. I managed to get one of the last tickets to that screening (it is as true abroad as in India that ‘scene’ films in festivals are always sold out). The film was Jan Dara from Thailand.

I was familiar with the director Nonzee Nimibutr’s horror film Nang Nak that I’d seen in Singapore in 1999. However, I was completely in awe of the films he’d produced—Danny and Oxide Pang’s slick tale of a deaf-mute hitman Bangkok Dangerous (1999), that some of you may have seen in Tamil as Pattiyal (2006); and Wisit Sasanatieng’s ravishing homage to westerns and Thai cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, Tears of the Black Tiger (2000).

Jan Dara was a rarity—a genuinely erotic film, a slow burner that used atmosphere, silences and, yes, some tastefully shot nudity to send temperatures soaring in the British autumn. Post screening, the inevitable research followed, and I discovered that the film is based on Utsana Phleungtham’s novel The Story of Jan Darra. Marcel Barang’s English translation of the Thai text begins with this author’s note: “This is the writer’s first novel and he must insist that his work of fiction is unsuitable for kids and most offensive to sanctimonious pricks.” That certainly sets the tone for a film that is best described as Thai Gothic. We are in Siam in the 1930s and Jan Dara(an r missing in the film version surname for some reason) grows up motherless in a large household. His father Khun Luang hates his son and is also highly sexed, taking his pleasures where he can get them, including amongst the domestic help. Jan is also a sentient sexual being, and the book and the film look at his relationships with his aunt Waad, his father’s mistress Boonlueang and his half sister Khun Kaew, and of course, his abusive father.

Apart from procuring the DVD and storing it in my collection, I didn’t think any more of Jan Dara. There was a 2004 Thai film called The Sin with a vaguely similar storyline that the producers shamelessly flogged around the world as Jan Dara 2. Years later, in 2012 to be precise, I found out that the classic of Thai erotic literature was being committed to film again, in two parts no less. I was intrigued, since the director, M. L. Pundhevanop Dhewakul, had bravely attempted a Thai remake of Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), titled The Outrage (2011).

When I finally got hold of Jan Dara: The Beginning (2012) and Jan Dara: The Finale (2013), it was a crushing disappointment. Dhewakul, fondly known as Mom Noi, packs in plenty of energetic sex between good-looking people, but leeches the films of any of the humid atmosphere that the 2001 adaptation had achieved. Time to seek out the 1977 adaptation by Rat Setthaphakdi.

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 3:22:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Thunder-Thais/article14593215.ece

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