fredag 18 maj 2012

Land of Grief (แผ่นดินวิปโยค, 1978)

In July 2011 a disaster would strike Thailand. Triggered by the tropical storm Nock-ten, flooding destroyed properties to a value of 45 billion dollars. 65 provinces was affected by the water and over 500 people died. It's the fourth most costly disaster ever. It ended in the middle of January 2012, but when me and G visited the country in March this year we could still see damage and it was something that caused a national trauma that won't be forgotten for a long time. When disasters happen in Thai movie it's often water involved. Sompote "Sands" Saengduenchai's 1978 disaster-drama Land of Grief is probably his most serious movie, even if I had a hard time following the story without subtitles. I don't think it's worth even trying to, but what we have here is Sorapong Chatree playing a the hero. It's set around a small town plagued by a gang of bandits, killing and robbing people. It all ends in a disaster, a terrible disaster, cleaning the land like an act of god. In the centre of it all is an ancient pagoda and the last we see in the movie is how it's rebuilt (it's a real pagoda) and reconstructed after what once happened. 

It takes 75 minutes for something to happen in this movie. Ah, I'm sure a lot of things happen in the first hour also - but the lack of subs made it virtually impossible to understand what was going on. It's drama, some comedy, some romance and of course the sadistic gangsters doing their evil deeds. It all ends when they brutally kill a family, executing them one by one, and maybe that's what sets of the disaster. A fury from mother earth herself.

First strikes winds, a nasty storm. Then an earthquake and finally tidal waves... and yeah, then some more store another earthquake! This is old-school disasters. Miniature houses and landscapes ripped apart by thundering earthquakes, families flushed away in slow-motion from the tidal wave, lightning attacking the bad guys and one character dies a bloody and graphic death when he's impaled by a tree! Sompote learned from his mentors at Toho, from Kurusawa and Honda. To make the audience suffer he must make the characters suffer - and with delivering a lot of character-development in the first hour it feels a lot more engaging when they die one after another in the last half. The effects is fairly well done also. Like always, it's easy to see that their are miniatures - but works fine considering the probably very low budget.

The mood also changes during the last hour. It's darker and nastier, far from the family friendly thrills in the beginning. Sorapong Chatree, an excellent actor, does his traditional hero - a free spirit who walks from village to village. Hardly anything new from him, but he's good - as usual. Like always, the only bad things in this movie is a couple of scenes with animal-killings. Well, I don't think we actually see them kill the animals (snakes and a lizard), but it's enough for me seeing them getting ripped in pieces by medicine men and chefs.

I was prepared to just skip this movie, but the last half made it so much more interesting. It also reminds me of what we saw in Thailand. One day me, G and Tong visited Sompote in his office and home outside Ayutthaya. After a couple of hours talking and walking around we left, but we asked if we could stop by the studio close to the entrance. "Of course", which was good - I wanted to take a photo of the giant crocodile we saw on our way inside.

The studio was more or less wiped out by the floods. Thousands of posters laid out on the floor to dry. Many of them melted together from the water. But there, leaned against a wall, the pagoda stood. The original miniature used in the movie. This time it made it.

It defeated the disaster...