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SONG OF CHAO PHAYA

Thailand, 1990 (MIFF 1991)

Director: Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol

Sang, Prang and Tubtim (husband, wife and sister-in-law), jointly crew a barge that brings sand down the Chao Phaya river to Bangkok. Arriving in Bangkok, the dissatisfied wife, Prang, goes ashore to seek to improve her life. Sang sets out to find his wife who has been lost in the big city...

The lyrical opening of this film, and the story (a barge-man loses his wife as they arrive in a town), make comparison with Vigo's L'Atalante inevitable. Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol's latest film, however, is specific to Thailand - at once a Thai social conscience film, of the kind pioneered by Chatri in the 1970's, an urban thriller-melodrama, designed for mass appeal, but containing unexpected subtleties of emphasis. In Thailand the film bore the title The Sister-in-Law and this was to play up the importance of the role of the wife's teenage sister, who remains on the barge and who effectively holds the family together through this psychological crisis, even while being one of its victims. In addition, throughout the film there is a specific emphasis on the precise calculation of the economics of survival for this river-going family, something which Chatri engages with in his other film shown in this year's Festival, dealing with Thailand's underclasses, The Elephant Keeper. Finally there is the key figure of the taxi driver in this film, whose alternately supportive/exploitative relationship to the desperate and naive husband, Sang - searching for his wife in the redlight district in this bewildering modern metropolis - focuses keenly the way in which these river people are like tourists even in their own capital city.

This year the Festival is showing two Thai films, both by Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol, who was educated at Geelong Grammar and at UCLA. The screenplay of Song of Chao Phaya is based on a story by his father, Prince Anusom Yukol, who also worked as a director in the Thai film industry.

See also...

SONG OF CHAO PHAYA

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