'Jan Dara' returns to the big screen with ML Bhandevanop 'Mom Noi' Devakula at the helm
Utsana Phleungtham’s novel "Jan Dara" returns to the screen on Thursday in its third adaptation in less than 35 years.
This time ML Bhandevanop "Mom Noi" Devakula is in the director’s seat and he’s weary of critics moaning that this erotic movie is being remade yet again.
"People would do a lot better to examine what is essentially a socially uplifting story than come down on it because they feel it’s obscene. All the entertainment media seem capable of doing is to dwell on how naked the actors will be and what the ice cube seduction iconic scenes will look like!
"I am almost 60! Do you really think someone of my age wants to do an erotic movie for pleasure?" says an exasperated Mom Noi.
"We are all born from the consequences of sex but Thai people are too hypocritical to talk about it or see it naturally. They feel awkward seeing erotic scenes at the cinema, but they are okay to watch them privately at home. That’s why the writer states at the beginning of the book that this novel is not for hypocrites," he adds.
Superficially "The Story of Jan Dara" is a melodrama about people trapped in lust, power and revenge. Yet beyond that, it is the story of a man suffering from what Freud described as the Oedipus complex, and how this sense of rivalry with his father pushes his life to such a tragic end.
Growing up craving a mother’s love and despising his father, Jan is mirrored by Khun Kaew, the daughter of his Aunt Waad and Jan’s father. Just as Jan hates his father, Kaew adores him, holding him up as a role model even in sexual activity. Yet Khun Kaew is also far from normal and her actions lead to the own disastrous unravelling of her life.
"The story shows us what happens when the urge for sex pushes human behaviour in a destructive way," he says.
Penned by Utsana – the penname of the late writer Pramool Unhathoop – in 1966, the tale is set in 1930s Siam and is about a boy growing up under his sex-addicted, womanising father.
It was previously adapted as a film in 1977 and by Nonzee Nimibutr in 2001.
After marrying Jan’s mother, whose family is wealthy, Jan’s father starts taking control of her assets. Jan’s mother dies while giving birth and he grows up without knowing why his father hates him so much. Raised by his aunt Na Waad (Bongkot "Tuk" Kongmalai) who later becomes one of his father’s wives in order to protect Jan from being abused, Jan is finally ousted from the family home. He later returns and takes everything back.
The sexual activities in this story are manipulated for different purposes – for power, revenge or to bargain for power. Jan’s father uses sex to gain power and thinks nothing of bedding the servants, a common trait among rich men in Thai society of the time.
Mom Noi adds that the fighting in Jan’s house reflects what goes on in society as a whole in a land where people are obsessed with money and power.
"For me, no literature truly reflects society as well as this story. Both Jan and his father have the same destiny. They both want power and money and when they lose it, they set out to get revenge on anyone standing in their way," he says.
Mom Noi made a lot of movies in the 1980s but only returned to filmmaking after a 13-year hiatus in 2010 with a remake of the classic drama "Chua Fah Din Salai" ("Eternity") . Last year, he remade Akira Kurosawa’s "Rashomon" as "Umong Pha Muang" ("The Outrage") before tackling "Jan Dara".
He has cast his young protege Mario Maurer in the role of Jan, causing film buffs to wonder if the actor is up to such a sturdy role.
"Aren’t you curious to know if he can accomplish it? It’s my job to choose the right character. Do you think I will make mistakes?" asks the director.
Mario will play Jan both young and old. As the story is divided in two parts, Mario’s more familiar youthful face will be seen in the first episode, which depicts Jan’s life from birth to age 17.
From a brief glimpse brief of Part 2, it appears that the second part offers more tense drama and a will chance for Mario to show his acting abilities.
"As sex has been used as the tool for different purposes, it’s best to portray all angles of manipulation through sex, otherwise the story would end up as nothing more than an erotic tale," says Mom Noi.
Moving away from her usual portrayal of a modern, confident woman, Bongkot plays the old-fashioned Aunt Waad.
Singer-actress Ratha "Yaya Ying" Pho-ngam plays the seductive Khun Bunluang, the mistress of Jan’s father who features in the famed ice-cube seduction scenes in Nonzee’s 2001 version, in which the character was portrayed by Hong Kong actress Christy Chung.
"All the women characters are important but Khun Kaew is very special. She’s Jan in a female version, but she’s way more than Jan. She’s a totally abnormal character."
Mom Moi finally cast Japanese AV star Shou Nishino in the role of Khun Kaew with singer Nat Myria Benedetti dubbing her voice.
The first part has earned a rating of 18+, a relief to the director who says he wants young people to have a chance to relate to the bright side of Jan as a teenager experiencing his first love and puberty.
"It is a teenage story in a way," says the director.
Part of the second episode has been shot but no release date is yet scheduled.
- "Jan Dara Pathombot" ("The Chapter of Jan Dara") opens in cinemas on Thursday.