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Past Article

Blissfully Ours: A Talk With Apichatpong Weerasethakul
By Jonathan Marlow
February 14, 2005 - 11:41 AM PST

"The prize gave me that confidence."

M: How long did it take you to edit your first feature? Was it a long process? I imagine you had a lot of footage.

W: Very long. About three months? I'm not quite sure but it was very long to me. We just sat there in the editing room and... shuffling things around. Sometimes we cut out the whole thing, the story. I was editing with Mingmonkul and at one point she was so excited she disappeared, you know, and it was very good because we had support from one editing company in Bangkok, so I had the whole time, the whole month to do everything, you know, doing it myself.

M: How did you start working with Mingmonkul originally?

W: I'm not sure. With Mysterious Object, I just knew that I needed an office... My sound man introduced me to her; she had just opened a film office. I asked her for help to recruit volunteers.

M: How did you end up coming up with the idea behind I-San Special, her debut feature?

W: I think I just like driving. To be in the car, moving and having the faces pass by. They're always like a soap opera. I don't know. I just combined these two together. In fact, I'd like to make a film myself but Mingmonkul did it.

M: Ah, so you would have otherwise made that film yourself?

W: Yeah, I wanted to.

M: Do you have a notebook full of ideas that you're working on? How do you start developing new projects? For I-san Special, for example, was she aware of the story? Had you written a script or just a treatment for the story at that point?

W: It's more conceptual because I went to a film production company that did a script for a soap opera, so I took a disc and asked them to copy it directly from that writer.

M: Oh, you did.

W: Yes, I didn't write, so I adapted it to be on the moving bus and kind of adapted some dialogue or some action to be performed on the bus, that's all. So when Mingmonkul started the film, she already had the whole dialogue, the whole setting. She introduced some new elements, for example, the main character... I think she devised him as some kind of criminal. In my original idea, it's much more straight forward and it's always on the bus without stopping. I didn't have a ghost as she did.

M: Yeah, that was a bit odd, the ghost.

W: So it was more like, always on the bus, and originally, the bus stopped at the village and the people go on to walk to their village and we follow them about ten more minutes, seeing their lives in the village, but somehow, their lives are very melodramatic.

Blissfully Yours

M: Wow, that would have been interesting. So you were in the midst of Blissfully Yours at this point and that film was, like everything you've done, pretty much, exceptionally well-received. You're playing again with film structure; I was very surprised when I first saw it that you had introduced the opening credits about a third of the way into the film. Were you disappointed or were you unsurprised when the film was banned in Thailand?

W: I was disappointed. I felt both because the film was censored before and the film was not banned. The DVD and the VCD was banned. Since the version that they put out - I don't think its my film anyway because the color was wrong and they reshuffled the film. In a way, I was glad that it was banned. In another way it was bad, banning it for sexual content. But that's changing.

M: Were you consciously trying to push those boundaries when you shot those scenes? It was an integral part of the story.

W: Now I just think that I made a film that I want to see, and so, especially when making films, it's very boring to do the same thing. I have to balance it so it?s not too much kind of just for the sake of something different. For example, the opening credits originally came at first, but when we repeated them, it just made sense to put them in the middle. This idea wasn't planned in advance. So when we make a film, we keep the possibilities open, and as long as it seems right to us, we just do it. I'm lucky to have all the producers for all the films; they are very open and just let me do whatever I want. That's what they want also.

M: When I had first read about the film I knew in advance that the credits were in an unconventional place. It originally struck me as almost like a Jean-Luc Godard sort of thinking of the way text interacts with the image, but when I saw the film, it's true that the titles come at a point where the film is, in essence, kind of starting over. It's going in another direction from that point. So it does feel very natural and unforced for it to happen.

Your third feature was also a collaboration - you share directing credit with Michael Shaowanasai on The Adventures of Iron Pussy. Sadly, I haven't seen this film as yet. Michael is an alumni of the San Francisco Art Institute, where parts of this story were first developed. Mingmonkul also studied at the San Francisco Art Institute. What is this appeal of San Francisco for these filmmakers? Was it by chance that they both ended up here?

W: I think so. I don't know. I almost went there also in the beginning.

M: Their acceptance date was too early for you?

W: Yeah, I think the money was not convenient for me. When I went there last year, I felt that it's very different from other US cities. It felt very liberated and I think that's why these two filmmakers are so different from others, but Michael went to Chicago later and that's how I got to know him.

M: Is it likely that you and Michael will collaborate again on a sequel to Iron Pussy or some other project?

W: We're trying to... we want to make an Iron Pussy as a Japanese animation, old style, but we're looking for money.

M: Are you looking in Japan or where are you looking to find money?

W: We did in Japan and it's still being kind of considered at the studio, but yeah. But still, I'm doing many things at once.

M: Well, you still have museums approaching you to do installations, yes. So you're quite busy.

W: Well, I try to focus more on feature films now but it's impossible. There are other jobs that pay better than doing a film. Video installations, surprisingly, yeah.

M: The direction that you, Michael and Mingmonkul have traveled is quite different than the path of the advertising directors like Wisit Sasanatieng and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. Is it likely that there will be an overlap between the work that they do and the work that you do? Do you like their work at all?

W: Yes, I am curious about it because I think Wisit and Pen-Ek are getting much more personal, getting away from the commercial style, and it's very likely that we will collaborate at some point.

M: So for Tropical Malady, you received the Special Jury Prize at Cannes. This must have been quite an endorsement for your work in a sense. It's very rare for someone to receive such recognition for only in their fourth film. How did that feel?

W: I just felt it's just a film in the competition. That was already enough for me. So to get the prize was, of course, happy, but I just didn't think much. I just thought, "Okay, a competition, I'm happy." So I think somehow it was quite too early. I don't know. Now I'm just getting more confidence in getting the film out and getting more personal. I think the prize gave me that confidence.

M: That's great.

W: Still, I don't feel that I want to make films for film festivals. It gets to be part of the marketing process. I'm not sure. I mentioned the kind of pressure from producers and expectations from producers to have films in Cannes and films in festivals. Now I think the pressure is gone; now we just make films without thinking, "Oh, this is for the festival." There's more freedom.

M: Strand is releasing it here in the United States and it sounds like your relationship working with Marcus Hu at Strand is good. It sounds like your film will be seen by a lot of people here. Do you think they'll also pick up Blissfully Yours for a video or is it not clear?

W: I have to send Marcus the DVD. It came out in Bangkok, but I'm still waiting for the company to get it to me then I'll send it to Markus. It's part of the ongoing relationship.

M: What other projects are you developing right now?

W: I'm shooting a short video for Korea. It's a 40-minute video called Worldly Desires. It's about a jungle in the future. The futuristic jungle. They remember that the humans came to shoot a music video, so every day and night, the jungle recreates these activities. It's kind of an experimental video. That will shoot this month and so I'm planning a feature film. Not yet titled, about my family. It's about my mother and my father before they had me.

M: And you will shoot that in Khon Kaen?

W: Yeah, in Khon Kaen. I'm not sure, because we need to find a small town and Khon Kaen is now very big.

M: So you have to find a fake Khon Kaen.

W: In this film, I plan to collaborate with a fortune teller to see my parents' past lives, so I will bring the story of their past lives to the real past also.

M: And you'll shoot this on film or video?

W: Film.

M: When do you think this'll go into production?

W: The shooting may be around September, October.

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"The mood of making my kind of films is getting stronger here."
"The prize gave me that confidence."

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Jonathan Marlow
In addition to his persistence in acquiring obscure films for GreenCine, Marlow is a writer, filmmaker, curator and occasional critic. Not necessarily in that order. He is also a dedicated skeptic.

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