While shopping in his neighbourhood in Thailand, director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang spotted a couple – a European man and a Thai lady – ahead of him. He started tailing the couple, observing what they were purchasing.
“Basically, stalking them,” said Ratanaruang at a press meet in Kuala Lumpur, to promote his film Samui Song.
When the couple was done, Ratanaruang paid for his purchases too and each went their separate ways. But the couple wouldn’t leave Ratanaruang’s mind. The writer-director started imagining what their life was like as all he saw during the shopping excursion was outward happiness.
“By the time I was in the shower, she was ready to kill him,” added the 56-year-old Thai native.
And that is the simplistic premise of Samui Song, currently showing in GSC International Screens. The film tells of a famous actress (Chermarn Boonyasak), who is frustrated with her Caucasian husband – a devoted member of a cult – that she hires someone to kill him.
Unfortunately, nothing goes right for anyone in this situation, even the hired killer lands into all sorts of unwanted trouble.
Not unlike his other films – which has received multiple nominations at various film festivals including Cannes Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival – Ratanaruang lets the audience come up with their own interpretation of what is happening on the big screen.
Samui Song, Ratanaruang stated, is an experiment of sorts, whereby he changes the genre of the film, the characters and the setting in the middle of the movie … before changing it back, only with a different reveal now.
“When there is a switching of characters, Samui Song becomes a completely different film.”
For instance, the hitman is shown taking care of his ailing mother with such tenderness that we’re stumped as to how the same hands could take a life so violently just moments ago. This surely can’t be the villain of the movie?
“Life is complicated. People are complicated,” offered Ratanaruang as an explanation. “There is no just happy and unhappy moments in our lives, other things come into play.”
With Samui Song, too, Ratanaruang manages to evoke various emotions and thoughts, including the role of women in a society where men are dominant, as well as the rampant abuse of power by those who manipulate the faith and beliefs of the common people.
“The audience can extract many things from my movie … but what I want the most is for them to stay connected with the emotional (ride) that the characters are experiencing.”
Needless to say, Samui Song can be confusing at times. Ratanaruang is the first to admit his films can be difficult. “I am not trying to be subversive. It’s hard for me to be contemporary,” said the director with an easy smile.
During the press conference, he shared that he does receive a lot negative comments from Thai audiences about his films.
His 2011 film Headshot for example is about a cop who sees the world upside down after waking up from a coma, and Ratanaruang chose to show exactly what the protagonist sees, which can be hard to watch.
“But when I start shooting a film, I forget about the bad comments and end up making a film that I want to make.
“I am most happy when making a film, the whole process of shooting on location and editing, I love it. It is only when I hand the film to the producer that I start getting the dreadful feeling.”
Despite the criticisms, he keeps on getting funding from overseas, especially European countries. On top of that, four of his films were chosen as Thailand’s entry for the Oscar’s Best Foreign Film category.
Maybe it’s because, at the heart of his films, there is something relatable. In Samui Song, it’s the complicated relationship individuals have.
“A lot of my friends tell me what’s happening in their relationships – what bothers them and what they love (about the other person). And this is absolutely fascinating to me – I am genuinely interested in the little mysteries of relationships.
“People are remarkable … in how we keep on going, continuing and accepting a situation, both good and bad.”
Samui Song is currently showing at GSC International Screens. Follow GSC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.