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A question of identity

Sep 02. 2011
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By Parinyaporn Pajee
The Nation

In his new film 'P-047', which premieres at the Venice Film Festival, Kongdej Jaturanrasamee questions how much of other people's lives we can really borrow

"If facts can become fiction…if lives can be borrowed and copied like pages from a book, then what remains of who we really are?"
Director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee raises this question in the press kit for "Tae Peang Phu Diaw (P-047)" and it's an apt illustration of his new and, it must be said, perplexing film, which has its world premiere this Thursday at the Venice International Film Festival in the non-competitive Horizon category.
"I think that we live by stealing something from others. We adapt, get someone else's idea, listen to songs, movie quotes and remember a friend's words. That's really how the idea for movie started," says the director.
"If saying this a little bit more elaborately, it's kind of the Buddhist idea of anatta - the notion of not-self," he adds with a smile
Kongdej portrays the idea through the story of a locksmith Lek (Apichai Trakulphadetkrai) and an aspiring writer Kong (Parinya Kwamwongwan) who use Lek's skills as a locksmith to break into people's apartments while they are not at home. They have the common rule that they don't steal anything, just borrow. They borrow lives, loves and things that belong to strangers. Then, one day they borrow than they bargain for.
As a conceptual idea of stealing people's lives, the story dances around between real and unreal situations that the characters have created. There are subtle allusions to today's craze for social media and the way people show themselves to the public and to friends.
"There's something about Facebook in the film. I'm intrigued by what goes on at Facebook. I often read a wall of someone I know and I'm surprised to see their ideas or a side of their personality I'd never seen before. I'm still undecided as to whether it is their real self or who they want to be," says Kongdej.
Reading Facebook or watching a film, he continues, is akin to peeping into another person's life and stealing little bits away. And that's like his characters who sneak into the lives of others. Despite their good intentions, it becomes impossible for them not to steal and inevitably their actions bring consequences, to themselves as well as to others.
"It seems too elusive to understand, doesn't it? But it's my film style; it's not too difficult and there's a plot to follow," says the director, whose previous films include "Sayew", which he co-directed with long time friend Kiat Songsanan, Cherm ("Midnight, My Love") and "Kod" ("Handle Me With Care").
There also seems little sense to the English title "P-047". Kongdej says nothing further about the meaning, merely commenting that viewers will find the answer in the story.
He does say that he's had been thinking about using a locksmith as a character for years, ever since a colleague had to call on such a service after forgetting his keys inside his apartment.
"I was intrigued by their capability. I remember thinking that they could intrude in anybody's home," he explains.
His two protagonists are both photographers in real life. Apichai is a still movie photographer who's worked on "Angulimala" and "Jan Dara" and a vocalist with the popular indie band Greasy Caf? meanwhile Parinya, who appeared in Kittikorn Liawsirikul's movie "Goal Club" and "Phrang Chomphoo" ("Saving Private Tootsie"), is now working as a photographer.
Since they are neither professional nor new actors, they have a different approach to acting. Kongdej says he didn't tell them how to act, just what he needed in the scenes, then left it up to their interpretation.
"Since Apichai isn't a professional actor, he returned with a song he wrote from his interpretation. It's amazing. Parinya didn't want to rehearse much. He prefers improvising so he just acted spontaneously. I was thrilled to work with them," he says.
Unlike the other two Thai films that were chosen for the festival, "P-047" was a late selection and announced after the festival line-up had already been published.
"It's was very exciting. We worked around the clock to finish the film," says the director.
The news about Venice had producer Soros Sukhum on tenterhooks.
"We were thrilled but worried at the same time. We had just two weeks to complete the film and we were unsure whether we could do it on time," says Soros.
Money was another problem. Financing for the project had come from an initial Bt3 million from the Ministry of Culture's "Thai Khem Khang" project last year plus some sponsorship from Krathing Dang (Red Bull) and Takaab (producer of the Chinese herb cough remedy).
"We were not in a hurry and were working within the money we had," says Soros. "When the Venice invitation came, we'd finished the final cut but we still had some post-production work left to do. We were leaving it undone until we found further financial support.
"We've completed the film without money. We're hoping to get more finance once it's shown in Venice."

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