By Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul
BNK48 – one of the international sister groups of Japan’s idol girl group AKB48 formed on the concept of “idols you can meet” – can finally be said to have reached the peak of popularity after a successful first year in Thailand’s music industry.
Today sees the general release of “Girls Don’t Cry”, a documentary by Nawapol “Ter” Thamrongrattanarit that tells the in-depth stories of the girl group and was well received by those fortunate enough to attend yesterday’s premiere at Paragon Cineplex.
In fact, two of the girls have already embarked on acting careers, with Patchanan “Orn” Jiajirachote playing a spy in director Yanyong “Suea” Kuruaungkoul’s romantic comedy “App War” and BNK48’s captain Cherprang Areekul cast in the lead role in an upcoming and as yet untitled teen thriller from Parkpoom Wongpoom alongside “Hormones” alumnus Teeradon “James” Supapunpinyo.
“T Moment has long wanted to make a movie for and about today’s teenagers, some of whom are already involved in startups. So we looked for rookies with acting talent to represent the new generation,” “App War” director Suea Yanyong told The Nation at the August 1 premiere of the movie.
“App War” tells the story of two startup teams, “Inviter” featuring Nat Kitcharit, Sirat Intarachote, Apiwit “Rung” Reardon and “Amjoin” featuring Warisara “Jingjing” Yu, Tanaphop “Third” Yoovichit, Ticha Wongthipkarn, and Orn BNK48, who compete against each other to win venture capital from an investor.
“I think the movie will inspire young people to follow their dreams,” added Orn BNK48, who plays the intern Nong Mild.
Making a documentary about teens was fairly plain sailing for Nawapol, whose past credits include “Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy”, “The Master” and “Heart Attack”, but he admits the schedule was tight and he wasn’t initially prepared for the depth of detail he would be covering in telling the stories of each of the 26 girls.
“I haven’t followed the idol group since the beginning,” says Nawapol in an interview with The Nation. “I’m not ‘otaku’,” he adds, using the Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, particularly in relation to anime and manga.
“But I was interested in how the idol group would adjust to Thai culture, as it is a very Japanese concept. However, it is a good phenomenon and an alternative to this country’s music scene.
“When we started, I wasn’t sure how I would approach the subject though I knew I wanted to bring aspects that fans have never seen or heard from their TV appearances and interviews. A point of interest is that BNK48 has been going for a year now and the girls are more mature than they were at the beginning. The documentary is like a flashback to the idol group’s thoughts, attitudes and moods,” he explains.
“Even if you are not a BNK48 fan, you can watch the movie, because it isn’t really about the idol group but about teens. It is more interesting than a usual documentary, because it is full of their attitudes and moods as they face unexpected situations and learn about fame and competition. Those are big lessons for girls so young.”
“Girls Don’t Cry” is different from the director’s previous coming-of-age movies, because it touches less on dreams and endeavours and more on learning and growing together as a popular idol group. Each girl has her own story, some happy and others surprisingly unhappy.
“It’s not just about a year that has seen them go from unknowns to success. These girls are different from high school students in that they have experienced more over the past 12 months as members of BNK48. Some of them rarely have the chance to speak for themselves and this documentary offers them that opportunity. These are the ones who are considered ‘undergirls’ and are therefore neglected by the media.
“I want it to be their own movie. I worked hard to gain the trust of each of the girls otherwise they would never have divulged their private stories. In fact, I was surprised at how complicated their stories were, even though I have produced many coming-of-age movies. It was like politics were ruining the friendship. Being in an idol group means you can’t avoid competition. BNK48 is also different from other music contests, which end up with a single winner. Additionally, as an idol group, they are together all the time. It’s a strange situation. Although they are girls, they aren’t as weak as everyone thinks,” Nawapol explains.
The 34-year-old director spent five months following BNK48 and shooting the film, which spans the period from their official launch in the middle of last year and their first single “Yak Cha Dai Phop Thoe - Aitakatta” through their hugely successful followup, “Khukki Siangthai – Koisuru Fortune Cookie” to today. In 2018, the idol group released “Wan Raek - Shonichi” and their fourth single “Kimi wa Melody” is coming soon.
The girls have been much in demand for commercials too, becoming presenters for True Move H, Fuji Film, AP Honda, Jele Beautie, Yayoi and Samsung among others, as well as being portrayed as major supporters of Thailand’s National Football Team aka Changsuek.
“This documentary is a kind of character study – an unprecedented big-screen closeup of the idol group. I think that everyone knows the story behind BNK48 so I go deeper, looking at their feelings about being or not being senbatsu (the selected ones) and the pressure they are under. I think all members knew what they wanted to say and what they didn’t want to reveal,” Nawapol continues.
While the movie title “Girls Don’t Cry” might bring to mind American director Kimberly Peirce’s “Boys Don’t Cry” based on the real-life story of Brandon Teena, an American transgender, Nawapol says the other film never even crossed his mind.
“The name came to mind during the girls’ interviews. I saw some of them weeping and I was very close to their feelings. Although others didn’t cry, I could see something inside. I think that tears are beautiful and interesting. The name symbolises both strength and weakness,” says Nawapol.
“‘Girls Don’t Cry’ is a movie that I think reflects the thoughts and feelings of a great many teenage girls.”