His Majesty the King's beloved pet dog Khun Thong Daeng inspires a trio of animated stories that are coming to theatres in December
When music festival promoter Vinij Lertratanachai finally got around to reading “The Story of Thong Daeng”, a 2002 biography penned by His Majesty the King about his favourite pet dog Khun Thong Daeng, he knew immediately that he had found his next project.
Now the fruit of two years of hard work is coming to the screen on December 3 to mark the Monarch’s 87th birthday in the form of an animated omnibus called “Khun Thong Daeng: The Inspirations”.
Produced by Vinij’s Fresh Air Festival at a cost Bt150 million, the film encapsulates three animated tales, each created by a different studio and telling its own tale.
“Mah Wad” (“Mid-Road”) by Imagimax Studios, depicts the life of Jorn, a stray dog adopted by an elderly monk. His name is short for mah jornjad, meaning stray dog, and despite the canine’s initial difficulties in taming his fellow temple dogs, he eventually gets them together and charges them with protecting the temple and the monk from thieves.
From Monk Studios comes “Tong Lor” about the relationship between a grandmother, a blind girl and her pooch in an upcountry village and shows how the loyal, intelligent and grateful canine is inspired by Khun Thong Daeng to behave with calm and dignity.
“Little Copper”, meanwhile, sees Workpoint Studios continuing the animation style it debuted with “Yak”, with all the characters taking the form of malfunctioning robots. It’s about a boy who gives new life to a tin-can pup named Copper.
Interwoven with all three films are live-action segments involving a girl who begs her uncle (Choosak “Nong Cha Cha Cha” Iamsook) to buy her a pedigree dog. But even though he is wealthy, the uncle follows the King’s example by adopting a stray for her. That dog is Hei and he’s played by the talented mixed-breed Richard, who cut his acting chops on “Ma Mha See Kha Krub” then went on to star in “Sai Lab Jab Baan Lek” (“The Bedside Detective”) and several TV commercials including one recently for Kiatnakin Bank. The dog Hei tries hard to make his young mistress accept him by showing his talents and manners, while the uncle tells her three doggy stories that reflect the real Khun Thong Daeng’s character.
The project started in January last year and came as something of a surprise to Vinit’s friends, as Vinit is certainly not a film lover and has no interest in animation. Indeed, he says that first and the last animation he watched was the Japanese TV animation “Nakak Sua” (“Tiger Mask”) back in the late 1970s.
“A colleague told me I should read the book and I picked up the comic version illustrated by Chai Ratchawat. I knew from the moment I started reading that I wanted to make a film of the story and was amazed to discover that the Khun Thong Daeng story had rarely been chosen for development, unlike His Majesty’s other work, ‘Mahajanaka’,” says Vinit who worked with the Bureau of the Royal Household in producing “Mahajanaka the Musical” at Benjakitti Park last December.
However, making any show or movie based on the King’s books requires strict adhesion to rules of interpretation and adaptation, so after discussing his ideas with Distorn Vajarodaya, the Grand Chamberlain of the Royal Household, Vinit decided instead to use the book as an inspiration.
Vinit works with his long-time collaborator Dr Head, the man behind the marketing strategy for blockbuster movies “2499 Antaphan Krong Muang” (“Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters”) and “Ong-Bak.” Dr Head has overseen the whole concept and assumed responsibility for casting the real actors.
For their part, the studios were asked to read the book and then create a suitable story.
Workpoint director Panich Sodsri took his inspiration from a book penned by the mother of the king, Her Royal Highness Princess Sri Nagarindra, the Princess Mother, in which she recounts that she taught her son that if he wanted a toy, he should either make his own or save up to buy it.
Imagimax and The Monk Studios are both well known for their outsourcing work for Hollywood and have remained in character. Imagimax’s “Mid-road” has characters in geometric shapes but use a real stray as the main character showing his gratitude to the monk who rescued him by protecting him and the temple in return.
The Monk Studios is a team of around 150 artists producing animation and visual effects for film and television. Their credits include “Rango” and “Star Wars: Detours”, and their recent short film “Nine” has won awards at film and animation festivals.
Monk’s Nitipat Somsaman says that Tong Lor is a pooch who wants to follow in Khun Thong Daeng’s footsteps by showing his loyalty towards his two owners as well as his personal traits, which include a fondness for peeling coconuts and a fear of thunder.
After approving the stories, Vinit gave all three studios complete freedom, staying in the background and only working to create harmony in concepts, colour and the mood when the films were joined to become the 105-minute animation.
He admits with a wry smile that he had no idea that making an animation was so expensive but thinks he has covered many of the costs through sponsorships from large companies including Kasikorn Bank, PTT, Air Asia and Betagro.
Meanwhile the animation is being promoted through a tour of 50 schools where students will learn about the concept as well as exhibitions of Khun Thong Daeng to be set up during the film premiere.
There are also plans to turn the pooches into an animated TV series from April next year. Each episode will run for about 11 minutes and the series will be comprised of about 20 to 30 episodes devoted to each character.
Khun Thong Daeng was a stray that the King adopted in 1998 and her name does indeed mean “copper”, in reference to the colour of her reddish coat. The King’s book about his beloved pet recounted her life and also offered advice in general, such as how to be a good person and the foolishness of wasting money on unnecessary things.
Khun Thongdaeng is now 17 years old and lives at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin.