British filmmaker and longtime Bangkok resident Paul Spurrier dwells on the spirits in his new thriller
Home to the biggest celebration of Far East Asian cinema since 1999, the Udine Film Festival wrapped on Sunday night with the triumph of South Korean film “A Melody to Remember”, Lee Han’s drama about a Korean war veteran who sets up a choir to help children who lost everything in the war. “Melody” picked the Audience Award, while Okita Shuichi’s “The Mohican Comes Home” about a failed punk rocker forced to return to his hometown picked up the Black Dragon Award and came third in the audience choice.
Three films from Thailand were selected for this year’s festival in the small Italian town in the FriuliVenezia Giulia region, less than 40 kilometres from the Slovenian border.
Wisit Sasanatieng’s “Senior”, which was released in Thailand and Southeast Asia last year, made its international debut along with Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s hit comedy drama “Heart Attack” (“Freelance”), which was well received by the audience.
The third was “The Forest”, a film by Paul Spurrier, which had its world premiere at the festiฌval. A child actor in the UK who went on to work in the entertainment industry in Britain, Spurrier setฌtled in Thailand 17 years ago.
“After a reasonably successful career as an child actor, I started my own production company and for a while thoroughly enjoyed the work. By the end of the 1990s, it had stopped being fun. All anyone could think about was money. They weren’t interฌested in the script and were constantly looking at their watches. A friend of my girlfriend’s wanted to make a documentary about elephants and asked me to help. I’d never been to Thailand before and remember being impressed by the energy of Thai crews, which was similar to what I experienced when I was a child. That’s why I moved to Thailand,” Spurrier explains.
In 2005, Spurrier directed the independent horฌror film “P”. The movie screened at several film festiฌvals, but was never released in Thailand.
“With ‘P’, the audiences most liked the scenes I filmed in upcountry. That made me want to make a film shot entirely upcountry, preferably in Isaan as the region is colourful and the atmosphere there is unique,” says Spurrier, whose “Forest” does indeed show the beauty and mystery of the Northeast region’s countryside.
“I wrote the script and the project was selected to participate in the NAFF It Project held as part of [South Korea’s] Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, but no one wanted to invest. I was told I should make it as a pure horror film but I felt it was more of an arthouse offering. Fortunately, some of my friends read the script and they liked it.”
“The Forest” was shot in just 29 days with a miniฌmal crew, including Jiriya Spurrier, Paul’s wife, her sister and the parents of the leading actor and actress.
“I really liked the film ‘Wallee’,” Spurrier says of his inspiration for “The Forest”, which draws loosely on the 1985 Thai film based on the true story of a young girl who rushes home from school during her daily lunch break to help her sick mother.
“I wanted to make a film about spirits, which are very much part of the Thai life. I don’t understand why in horror films ghost always have to be scary. I was interested to see if ghosts can be friends with humans. ”
Set in rural Isaan, “The Forest” tells the story of Preecha (Asanee Suwan from “Beautiful Boxer”), a young man who has left the monkhood and takes a teaching post at a remote school. There he meets Ja, a mute girl who is often bullied. One day, as she is walking back home through the forest, she meets a mysterious wild boy. She names him Boy and becomes his friend, but the mysterious boy in the forest may not be a human like her.
“We drove all over the region and finally selected on Wang Sam Mor between Udon Thani and Sakon Nakhon as our location. We found the perfect school, then contacted 15 schools in the area to look for our cast. We found five girls who we thought might fit the role of Ja but couldn’t find a child who could play Boy until we went to the last school. I was sitting and charging my phone and a young lad came up to me and asked me lots of questions about my powerbank. It made me interested in him,” Spurrier says of his cast, which uses mainly rookie actors, the exceptions being Asanee and the subdistrict chief, played by Vithaya Pansringam.
“[Photographer] Theerapong Liaorakwong recฌommended Thidarat Kongkaew for the role of Nittaya, a fellow teacher wanting to escape from the village and who later has a relationship with Preecha.
“Theerapong thought Thidarat was better than many professional actresses,” Spurrier says.
“I want the audience to think about the meaning of good and evil. In this film, the villain may not be the ghost. The ghost may kill people because he is naive. Evilness may come from something that’s totally unexpected.”
Into the woods
“The Forest” is slated for release in Thailand sometime this year.
For details, check www.facebook.com/theforestthefilm.