14 September 2009


A recent work by Anusorn Tipayanon, Nimitwikan (นิมิตต์วิกาล) is a short story about quest, power, and humanity. Set in the old days when Thailand was in dispute with France over the territorial lines in Cambodia, the work relates how a Thai man survives from a flash flood and is then hospitalised by the French. He is imprisoned in a dark room with only a lit lantern. There he hears the piano sound and a female voice talking to him.

The author shows his expertise in weaving fiction with the real story of Andre Malraux stealing some ancient objects from Banteay Srei, a very beautiful temple located around 30 kilometres north-east of the famed Ankor Wat. Malraux's story is here capitalised as a scandal and a warning tale for those who become too mesmerised by art, in the same way that the protagonist is fascinated by the world of photography. In the style unique to Anusorn, this fascination becomes at once glamorous and dangerous.

Here little is needed to pinpoint the similarity between this novella and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, when a White man is drunk with power and establishes himself as a mob leader. Here in this novella it is Pierre Bourdieu (what a name!) who is inspired by Malraux's diary and makes a decision to form a brigand to fight the French authorities. I won't tell you what will happen, whether the French manage to crack down on this insurgent group or they get off scot-free, but it suffices to say that what we have here is a parable of power and loss, of one's recognition that power is nothing but burden that leads on to more burden. What in the end exists may not be power as such but the void, the state of nothingness when one realises that nothing will last forever and everything is illusory, including power. Here one may say that Anusorn's message is deeply Buddhistic.

So what is the whole book about? Power and nothingness? Surely not, at least what we have in hand is a book and this is art. Art, even though it is enticing and dangerous, has a role; it makes us more sensitive to the illusion that surrounds us. Thus, it may not be too far-fetched to claim that Anusorn's small opus reminds us that art, in being fiction, can remind that everything else also is.

กุมภาพันธ์ | February

An old film by veteran director Yuthlert Sippapak in 2003, February is a beautiful film set in Bangkok and New York. Kaewta is an unsuccessful artist in Bangkok, who realises that she has got only four months to live. Her relationship also comes to an end. All in all, her life in Bangkok can't get any worse. Thus, it is natural that she needs to fly to New York to enjoy the last period of her life forgetting her life in Bangkok.

Once in NYC, she finds life can definitely take a worse turn, as she is conned by a taxi driver and, when escaping, is run over by a car. Kaewta wakes up, only to realise that she forgets who she is and where she comes from. Beside her is a mysterious man named Jeeradech, who works for a mafia gang and who wants to be good.

Of course, I can't help but feel that this plot is somehow very typical and not that original, but the director manages to hold our attention with the beauty of the Big Apple. Fate is a main issue of this film, as the lives of both Kaewta and Jeeradech cross one another through fate. Yet, somehow this fate is closely intertwined with the notion of fatalism, as they are also reminded that they know so little about how their lives would turn. Little would Kaewta realise that her pictures would be appreciated by an American artist (whose slow accent is somehow condescending) and little would she realise that her relationship with Jeeradech would be cut short. Little would she know that she would meet him once again and little would she know that the director would take him away once again. (At this point, it makes me wonder whether the director himself got inspired by Brad Silbering's City of Angels.)

I don't mean to be too cynical here but a film that harbours too much on coincidences and chances is bound to be not highly regarded in terms of plot, as the director could easily make things happen and blame them on fate. Perhaps that's the reason why I still esteem old-fashioned whodunits which require the real power of reasoning and the great technique of ratiocination.

13 September 2009

Water | Time

Written by Shogo Tanikawa and directed by Bhanbassa Dhubthien, Water | Time is currently being restaged due to popular demand. There are only three actors in this play: Sasithorn Panichnok, Shogo himself, and Apirak Chaipanha. Yet the audience were riveted to their seats for one hour and a half, mesmerised by the bittersweet relationship between Nam and Kenji, and A, a friend who tries to help this couple.

The problem is somehow commonplace: Kenji is an unhappy Japanese playwright, somewhat pressured by his previous works, while Nam (a Thai word for 'water') is a sweet Thai girl who is in love with Kenji. However, things are not as sweet as they expect, as Kenji finds his creativity blocked and cannot finish his latest script. Nam becomes the breadwinner and their love is understandably put on a strain. Their communication is somehow made more difficult by the languages they speak: both of them need to talk in English, a language to which neither of them are native. Frustration appears, as we can see that sometimes both Nam and Kenji resort to their native language to reveal their emotion and anxiety.

I think the play portrays to great effect the problems we face nowadays. Love in the city is indeed very difficult, but love between people from two different nationalities are even more difficult. The sad thing is we don't find these two characters -- Nam and Kenji -- evil or corrupt: they are good-intentioned, very much in love with each other, but somehow the urban society they live in requires too much from them. This can be seen in Kenji's stress, as he wishes to write better works, to achieve both financial and intellectual recognition at the same time.

However, what remains puzzling to most viewers is probably the climax scene when Kenji is preparing rice balls to Nam. I think the script could be improved if more hints are put as to what really happens to both characters. I understand that the playwright doesn't want to reveal too soon what really happens until right at the very end. But the hints are too few. If someone misses those hints, a lot of meaning will be lost.

But perhaps that's also the beauty of this play. Attention is needed if one wishes to understand. Attention is also needed in terms of time. Time is fluid and plays a crucial role in our imagination. Nam consciously dreams of the yonder days when her love with Kenji blossomed. Kenji, however, dreams of the future when Nam and he will visit the Fuji together. And of course the last scene when time is also a crucial factor for our understanding of the play, when the past becomes the present and vice versa. Time is indeed subjective.

I need to confess that I was myself puzzled a little bit right after the play, but the more I think about it, the more I want to see it again, at least to fill in missing gaps and ruptures. But somehow these are not meant to be filled.
Just like some moments in real relationships, these gaps and untranslated bits cannot be translated but can only be felt and imagined.