By PARINYAPORN PAJEE
Khun Pan, the 1940’s cop hero, is coming back to the big screen later this month but fans shouldn’t expect the icon of righteousness to be as pure as driven snow. This time round, the detective crosses to the dark side to join forces with notorious criminals in “Khun Pan 2”
The first film, released in 2016, was a hit for director Kongkiat Komesiri, earning a respectable Bt60 million at the box office. And despite being criticised for his work, he’s back at the helm for round two.
Considered one of the most versatile filmmakers in Thailand since his debut “Long Khong” (“The Art of the Devil”), Kongkiat was also behind the acclaimed though not money making “Muay Thai Chaiya” and “Chuean” (Slice”). But, he says with a grin, “Khun Pan” is by far the most entertaining film he’s worked on.
“It’s been fun making this film but also very exhausting and full of problems. Even though this is a sequel, we still had a limited budget, which is difficult when you are trying to make an action movie, some of my team quit and my actors were burnt out from the tough shoot,” he says.
Yet despite the measly Bt30 million budget, which allowed little for visual effects, he is pleased with the outcome.
“Making an action fantasy movie like this is challenging but I loved the idea of reviving the Thai action movie style called raberd phookhao phao krathom (exploding mountains and burning shacks),” he says. The phrase refers to the popular scenes that appeared in the Thai action films so popular in the 1970s and 1980s featuring superstars like Sombat Methanee, Soraphong Chatree and Krung Sriwilai as heroes going up against influential people exploiting the rural poor. It’s a movie style that the director, like other kids at that time, was crazy about as a youngster. And thanks to the period and the background scenery, “Khun Pan 2” is filling the boots of yesteryear’s heroes.
Director Kongkiat Komesiri
“Making an action movie is challenging. It reminds me of my youth when I used to go to outdoor screenings. The story-lines were improbable, even crazy, but we loved them.”
“Khun Pan 2” is neither a tribute to nor a return to that style, more, the director says, a question of bringing mood and tone to audiences.
“There is a thin line between a remake of the style and being inspired by it. We have to tread carefully otherwise it’s outdated and boring. What we’ve done is similar to the approach Quentin Tarantino uses to bring some style from a Shaw Brothers’ movie or the slasher movies on which Robert Rodriguez draws,” he explains.
“Khun Pan 2” is set just after the World War II during an upsurge in crime and violence all over the country. Criminals rob people at will and law enforcement takes advantage of the corrupt system. Khun Pan (Ananda Everingham), who is now assigned to take down criminals in the central region, is suspended from duty as a result of the corrupt police system, leading him to question the state of justice. While suspended, he is drawn into a crime that affects the people around him and decides to investigate alone. That leads to him joining the notorious gang led by Suea Fai (Lt Col Wanchana Sawasdee) and Suea Bai (Arak Amornsupasiri.) “Suea” was the title by which notorious criminals were known in that era and both Suea Fai and Suea Bai were real-life robber barons in Thailand’s central region.
Has Khun Pan made the right decision in joining the gang of Suea Fai and Suea Bai?
Rachawin Wongviriya plays the owner of an entertainment venue where both criminals and law hang out while Arpa Pawilai stars as Suea Bai’s girlfriend.
Khun Pan is more mature and more human than in the first part, which pleased actor Ananda and partly made up for the exhaustion he suffered during the filming. The casting of Lt Col Wanchana, who is best known for portraying King Naresuan in the epic “The Legend of King Naresuan”, will come as a surprise to fans though his characterisation of Suea Fai will bring to mind Sombat Methanee during his heyday.
“That’s my intention,” Kongkiat says, adding that he also would have liked to cast a supporting villain like that played by the late actor Phiphob Phoopinyo.
Magic weapons are also introduced including Khun Pan’s famous magical Red Sword, a whipped gun and a magic bullet that hits everyone in Suea Bai’s vision. There are magic spells too that help the characters survive as well as magic that helps them be invisible others or “Salikar Lin Thong” -the spell that makes people believe whatever you say.
Kongkiat introduced magic and superstition in the first film as he worked to create a Thai action hero franchise movie. The concept is more concrete in the second part helped along by the decision to make Khun Pan a fictional character in a carousel of tidbits drawn from real-life events.
The fist “Khun Pan” was adapted from the career of Pol Maj-General Khun Phanthrak Rajadej during the 1930s and ’40, who was best known for using his “superstitious” powers to take down notorious criminals in the south of Thailand and the central region. He died in 2006 but his name came back to everyone’s lips during the craze for the Jatukam Ramathep talismans in 2007. Khun Pan was a maker of the amulets.
The idea to make Khun Pan a franchise came from film producer Somsak Techarattanaprasert who wanted to make Khun Pan a James Bond type of character. However the first part was caught between biopic and fictional action hero and didn’t do either justice.
“That is why the first part was criticised by those who respect Khun Pan. So we decided to set the clear direction in “Khun Pan 2” as a fictional and entertaining approach. It’s just like watching Ethan Hunt in ‘Mission Impossible’,” he says.
The first “Khun Pan” was also disparaged for its poor visual effects, a criticism the director freely admits was down to a limited budget and time constraints. This time, he’s attempted to fix the problem by avoiding visual effects as far as he can.
“I don’t complain about the budget because I understand the investors’ position. We cannot be selfish and demand what we want while ignoring the risks. But the budget is a headache as it makes it impossible to make the film as perfect as we want,” he says.
Kongkiat adds that with Khun Pan’s universe clearly defined, he has plenty of ideas for continuing the franchise. In real life, Khun Pan took down many influential criminals across the country |and was also known for his superstitions and talismans, all facts that can be fictionalised for an entertaining story in the next “Khun Pan” sequel.
“I’ll be proud of the project if it has its own life without me. The project can now be handed over to other directors to continue the series,” he says.