Director Ekachai Uekrongtham brings the rich history of muay thai to the Bangkok stage
The origins of Thailand’s famed kickboxing discipline – muay thai – are being brought to the stage in the New Year in a brand new drama from prolific director Ekachai Uekrongtham.
The man behind the 2003 hit movie “Beautiful Boxer”, which told the true story of a male boxer who underwent gender reassignement surgery and 2011’s non-verbal theatre production “Boxing Boys”, says he’s never lost his fascination with the sport.
“Muay thai is always a good fuel to drive creative work. It has built in conflict and it’s beautiful but dangerous. It has legend and history so it’s also a rich source of inspiration,” he says.
Rehearsals for “Muay Thai Live – The Legend Lives” are in full swing and the curtain will rise on the show on January 15 at The Stage at Asiatique the Riverfront.
Unlike the usual gamut of tourist entertainment available in Bangkok, “Muay Thai Live” combines sport and stage play. The director, who made his name with his Singapore-based production “Chang and Eng the Musical” before returning home to work a movie director, says he’s enjoying the challenge of putting on a show that’s never been done before.
“I don’t know what the reference of this show is. It may be like the Shaolin show though I watched it so long ago that I can hardly remember it. It’s unlike any other tourism shows in Thailand, which are usually variety performances focusing on Thai art, culture and costumes. The difference with our production is that the story comes first and that breathes life into the characters.”
As a Thai who studied and lived in Singapore for years, Ekachai has an aptitude for picking subjects about Thailand that have an international appeal, like the famed Siamese twins Chang and Eng and the transgender boxer Parinya “Nong Toom” Charoenphol.
“Muay Thai Live” goes back to the origins of Thai boxing with four heroes representing the story of the martial art through the ages. They include Phra Chao Suea, the “tiger king”, an Ayutthaya-era monarch who wandered Siam in disguise, challenging all comers. Another figure will be Phraya Phichai Dab Hak, aka “the Broken Sword”. There will also be a young fighter from contemporary times.
The performance will be in five acts, the same number of rounds in a boxing match. Act I, “The Tiger in Disguise”, is devoted to Phra Chao Suea, who is considered the father of muay thai.
Act II tells the story of Nai Khanom Tom in “The Prisoner with Eight Limbs” and Phraya Phichai Dab Hak is the focus of Act III, “The Warrior with Broken Swords”. The new generation of fighters is depicted in Act IV, “The Passion Fighter”. The final act, “Muay Thai Forever”, will highlight the beauty of the “Wai Khru”, the ritual dance performed by each fighter before a match.
Sixteen actors are taking part in the show, among them Asanee “Art” Suwan, who played Nong Toom in “Beautiful Boxer” and also starred in “Boxing Boys.”
The sets will also showcase different times in Thailand’s history with the first act centred on a temple fair and the second, a gladiator stadium. The show is designed to be interactive, thus giving the audience the opportunity to get involved.
“Three main elements are outlined in the story. The first is that Thai boxing is a treasured tradition. The second focuses on real kicks and live performance and the third underlines the visual impact that inspired imagination, theatrical skills as well as cinematic work bring to a live show,” Ekachai says.
“My aim is to present a show that’s enjoyable and exciting for people of all ages and genders, both Thai and foreign, as well for those who already love Thai boxing or are experiencing it for the first time.”
Ekachai compares his show to the Marvel comics universe and its many superheroes. “Our first show will tell the origin of the story and if it works, there can be spin-offs, just like Marvel has made movies of “The Avengers”, “Thor” and “Iron Man”, Ekachai says.
Now in business for almost two years, Asiatique has become a new landmark on the lifestyle landscape and offers Thais and tourists a place to shop for souvenirs and fashions as well as enjoy the Calypso cabaret and good food and drink. Current figures put the number of visitors to the riverfront venue at about 20,000 visitors daily with as many as 60,000 turning out over holidays.
The Stage has been built in the Warehouse 4 area and is described by TCC Holding’s Panot Sirivadhanabhakdi as “the last piece in the puzzle of Asiatique’s first phase”.
With “Muay Thai Live” taking centrestage, the number of tourists is expected to rise by 20-30 per cent.
Produced by the Thai Show 2013 company, which is chaired by the Phornsiri Manohan, former director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, “Muay Thai Live” has been in the works since May. The production has been touted to foreign audiences during a road show in China and England and, Phornsiri says, is fully booked for the first six months.
Elbow your way in to the show
_ “Muay Thai Live: The Legend Lives” opens on January 15 at The Stage at the Asiatique Riverfront.
_ For details, see www.MuayThaiLive.net and www.Facebook.com/muaythailive.bkk.