Peace & love in Shambhala
A Thai film goes to Tibet, following two brothers who come to terms with themselves and each otherSet in Tibet and starring popular actors Ananda Everingham and Sunny Suwanmethanon, "Shambhala" has all the ingredients to draw viewers to the cinema. Yet it's only now, three years after it was shot, that the movie is finally opening.
Filmmaker Panjapong Kongkanoi, who'd been waiting to make his first feature for a decade, wasn't too worried at the delay, the result he says of programming schedules, post production work and last year's flooding.
Named after the mythical kingdom somewhere in Asia, "Shambhala" tells the story of estranged brothers Wut (Sunny) and Tin (Ananda), who travel to Shambhala for very different reasons. Straitlaced Wut is on a quest to carry out his ailing girlfriend Num (Nalinthip Phermphatsakul)'s dream of taking photographs of Shamhala in the hope in will make her better. Feckless Tin then shows up out of the blue and decides to join Wut on the trip to get away from his problems with his lady friend Jane (Osa Wang).
"The story can be set anywhere in the world but in the vast prairie with magnificent mountains as the backdrop, the characters find peace of mind," says the director.
Panjapong started writing the script after visiting Tibet for the first time in 2007 while shooting the travel programme "Dan-Beam: The Series".
"The Tibetans' faith impressed me so much. From morning 'til night, they devote themselves to Buddhism. They make a wish, not for themselves like Thai people always do but for their loved ones," says the director who has travelled all over the globe making TV programmes like "Dan-Beam" and "Visa."
"I put all of myself in the story. My personality is like Tin's, Wut is the kind of man I want to be and my ideal girlfriend is like Jane," he reveals.
But Panjapong is also quick to say that the movie is not selling Tibet as a destination like other Thai productions shot overseas tend to do.
"It's just the fascinating background that helps the characters to find themselves. You won't see Lhasa city or the Potala Palace because we are nowhere near there. We filmed in a remote area where the only other people around were nomads."
A long-time friend of Sunny, the director intentionally designed Wut's character around the actor. Ananda, he says, came to the project later and he couldn't have asked for anyone better to play the carefree Win.
Panjapong's first script bore little resemblance to the "Shambhala" filmgoers will get to see when the movie opens this week. His original story, he explains, was a heavy religious drama set in Tibet and when he pitched the project to executive producer Somsak "Sia Jiang" techarattanaprasert at sahamongkol Film International, Sia Jiang turned it down.
"He didn't shut the door, though. He said, 'if you really want to make the film about Tibet, go work on the script, adjust the story then we'll talk'.
"That conversation made me think. It's easy to create an art work that's what you want it to be but it's obviously better if your work can communicate with the people," he says
As he started to rewrite the story, love came to mind and he worked on tying it to faith and to the place where he believes "humans can reach up and touch heaven".
Panjapong says Sunny and Ananda, who haven't worked together before, rose to the challenge, teaching each other acting tricks and getting on well despite the inconveniences of the location.
"They are total opposites in real life but their chemistry is awesome. They both became involved in the script development," says the director.
Filming abroad had several benefits for the filmmaker - it helped the actors focus on their work, increased the experience of the crew and offered everyone, including the audience, the chance to enjoy the scenery.
But the month in Tibet wasn't easy. With the location in the east of Tibet, they started the trip from China, travelling 12 hours on bumpy roads, walking days in the mountains, and facing biting cold and risks of altitude sickness.
The director admits that sometimes his reckless decisions put the team at risk. "I'm just thankful that we got through those experiences safely. I learned to get over my ego and be more concerned about the consequences," he says.
The almost three years for post-production has helped Panjapong to shape the movie the way it should be.
"The movie has undergone a lot of changes. It's stronger, more mature and easier to understand," he says.
- "Shambhala" opens in cinemas on Thursday.