tisdag 20 mars 2012

A meeting with Sompote Sands

Say his name, and the mention of Sompote Sands makes fans both react with enthusiasm and anger. A controversial man since his days in Japan and he still creates controversy until this day. My first meeting with Sompote was Crocodile, the Dick Randall re-edited and dubbed version that was released in most part of the world – but the original Thai version, Jorrakay, is a superior creature feature and also is one of Sompote’s most even and commercially successful films.
Later I bought was very entertained by Yuk Wat Jang Pob Jumbo A, Hanuman VS 5 Masked Riders, The Noble War, Hanuman VS 7 Ultraman, Phra Rot-Meri, Tah Tien and the legendary Magic Lizard! The work of Sompote is like Toho on LSD, but in a very good way. We’re talking about full-blown craziness, packed with action, monsters and weird comedy. Even of the budgets was quite low, probably between 100000-200000 dollars (the budget for Tah Tien was 120000 dollars and Sir Run Run Shaw bought the Hong Kong rights for the exact same amount).
Sompote first came to Japan in the beginning of the sixties and got Akira Kurosawa as his mentor. He spent a lot of time inside Toho and learned the craft from the masters. When he later wanted to start his own film production in Thailand he worked with the Japanese and Eiji Tsuburaya became a close friend and inspiration. From the early nineties to the late eighties Sompote made moves featuring both local mythological monsters and Japanese characters like Ultraman and Kamen Rider. Sometime here the story about rights and licenses depart depending on which one you talk about, but I leave that to the lawyers. What I know is that I got a chance to meet Sompote Sands and visit his movie studio outside Ayuttaya, Chaiyo Studios – and very few other “farangs” have gotten that opportunity over the years.
I’m afraid I can’t show you so much from the inside of the studio – and a lot of it was destroyed by the recently floods in Thailand – but here’s the front and a couple of photos from the first studio. It’s not much left of it, but it’s still a fantastic place and a piece of movie history.

I met Mr Sands together with his daughter, Fon, and his secretary and together with walked through the inner sanctum of Chaiyo Productions - and boy, I wish I could show you the sights from there. But I can’t. Sorry. Not right now.
Instead I got a few hours of talk with Mr Sands and his knowledge about especially Japanese cinema is impressive. In his belongings is the camera that shot The Seven Samurais and King Kong vs Godzilla (he had a lot of very impressive behind the scenes photos from these movies also) and the love for cinema shines like I never seen it before. Forget all the rumors and talks, Sompote might be a clever businessman – but his love for cinema is so much bigger. What I especially liked about him is his geeky approach to monsters and supermen – he loves them, he cares about them. It’s like watching a twelve year old fan boy when he starts talking about the characters, showing photos and props.
Magic Lizard is one of his most talked-about movies, mostly because it totally lacks a coherent storyline and has a story so wacky that it’s hard to understand how it even came to be a real movie. Well, I asked him and Mr Sompote laughed a lot! Originally Magic Lizard was a TV-movie, a production ordered from a Japanese TV-station – and not intended for cinema in Thailand. “The Japanese has a very odd sense of humor”, Sompote said and laughed even more – joined in my the rest of the staff present. Yes, so even the man himself thinks Magic Lizard is a strange, wacky and odd movie. But there’s the answer, and it says it all: Japanese TV-movie. Nothing like that in the world.

I got a chance to meet Sompote the week, but this visit will still be one of the best memories ever from my geeky movie nerd life. I’m very happy that it happen and I hope and wish that Sompote’s new big plans will come into fruition!