2006/Feb/05

ABOUT A BOY, AND A GHOST

One of the directors behind 'Fan Chan' describes his solo debut as a dark coming-of-age film

Kong Rithdee

Chalee Trairat plays a dorm boy spooked by strange encounters.

The long, deserted corridor of a boy's boarding school at night was the genesis of Songyos Sukmakanant's spooky inspiration. One of the six young-blooded directors who engineered kid's flick Fan Chan (My Girl) to become the adorable hit of 2003 is now flying solo with Dek Hor (The Dorm), a young boy's dormitory adventure with a poltergeist-in-residence set for a February 23 release.

At first glance a simple ghost movie, Dek Hor, Songyos says, is at heart a coming-of-age drama born out of his fondness for shadowy, atmospheric films and his own boyhood experience as one of the "dorm boys". "I was upset when my family sent me to a boarding school, I didn't want to go at all," says Songyos. "But after three years at the school I had so much fun I didn't want to come back home. It was an experience of growing up that really sticks with me."

Though most dorm boys today prefer babbling away on their phones to roaming the school's corridors at night, Songyos rewinds the years back just a bit to preserve the sober air of the boarding school he once knew. The director shot most of the movie at his old turf in Assumption Sri Racha, and he's been spending a lot of time bleaching the film stock, draining it of bright colours and adding spectral contrast, to give the final cut the chilly, silvery look he desires. "It's all about atmosphere," he says. "Without the kind of look I intend, the whole thing would lose its purpose."

Songyos Sukmakanant.

It's also about a boy. Chalee Trairat (the lead from Fan Chan) plays a Grade 7 boy sent to a boarding school, where his nocturnal wanderings along the empty hallways and a neglected pool lead him to a supernatural encounter. Whether this follows the haunted-high school scarefest of Carrie or the my-friend-is-dead-but-cuddly form of Casper remains to be seen. The film's theatrical trailer is deliberately vague, witholding key plot points and instead teasing us with creepy scenes of howling dogs and the boy lost in the vast dorm.

Songyos, however, is anxious that the trailer is encouraging a wrong expectation that this is an all-out ghost story, one featuring mean spirits who terrorise the boy's peaceful stay at the school.

"For me, the film tries to say something about the meaning of relationships," says the director. "There's a point about the relationship between parents and their child, between teachers and students, and between the boy and this paranormal existence. For the sake of convenience we could brand it a ghost movie, though I think we can broaden the range of what a 'Thai ghost movie' is: Dek Hor is not a ghost movie in the sense that The Ring or Shutter are ghost movies. I hope the audience will get that."

The director goes so far as to describe Dek Hor as the darker version of Fan Chan. In the 2003 movie, the top-grosser of that year, the viewers are lulled into a nostalgic childhood trip watching a group of children learning their early lessons about growing up. Songyos believes that Dek Hor essentially homes in for the same message, for the same feelings of warmth and romantic loneliness, though obviously the approach he chooses this time is much less colourful.

Chalee Trairat plays a Grade 7 boy who has to deal with supernatural happenings at a boarding school.

"Perhaps I'm getting older," says the 28-year-old filmmaker. "And I've started to believe that even a coming-of-age film doesn't always have to be bright and cheerful"

The budget for Dek Hor was 30 million baht, slightly more than an average mid-size movie. The fact that Songyos was part of the directorial team that made Fan Chan a phenomenal hit, and that his friend from the same team had made another successful film Puen Sanit last year, should both work in favour and compound the nervousness on Songyos's part as the film's release date nears.

"It's good that Puen Sanit made quite a lot of money, because that will boost the interest in my film," says Songyos. "But then again, it's natural that I feel the pressure. I'm grateful that my senior friends [the executives at studio GTH, who financed the film] have the faith to give me the money and let me do the film I want, and I'll be relieved if the movie can return the money they put in."

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