Queen of action, queen of drama

lifestyle November 15, 2013 00:00

By Wise Kwai

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The World Film Festival of Bangkok pays tribute to '80s superstar Jarunee Suksawat

BACK IN THE late 1970s and early ’80s, one actress dominated the Thai big screen – Jarunee Suksawat.

In an era when 120 Thai films were being made each year, she was appearing in perhaps 100 of them, says Kriengsak “Victor” Silakong, director of the World Film Festival of Bangkok, which this year honours Jarunee with the Lotus Award for lifetime achievement.

Victor recalls going to see her movies when he was a youngster.

“She was the star of Thailand. The whole country was crazy about her,” he says.

While still in her teens, she made her debut in 1977’s “Sawasdee Khun Kroo” and was catapulted into the spotlight later that year when she was cast in “Rak Laew Raw Noi” opposite the era’ most popular leading man, Sorapong Chatree.

With her tomboyish looks, the young starlet was a natural for action flicks, and for a time she reigned as Thailand’s “action movie queen”.

Among the films from this period was 1979’s “The Mountain Lion” (“Sua Poo Khao”), a romp through the hills directed by Kom Akadej and also starring Sorapong.

However, her breakthrough as a dramatic actress came in 1980 in the film adaptation “Baan Sai Thong”, a sweeping story of class conflict that’s also been depicted in countless TV series. Victor calls it “our ‘Gone with the Wind’.”

Directed by Ruj Ronnapop, Jarunee portrays a young woman from a poor background who arrives at a wealthy family’s mansion to claim her inheritance, setting off a struggle for power.

“Baan Sai Thong” was a record-breaking hit in its day and is still regarded as one of the best of the many adaptations of the story.

Jarunee again took the lead in the sequel, “Pojjaman Sawangwong”, in which she’s assumed control of the estate, but family members are plotting behind her back.

Jarunee’s popularity and heavy workload took a toll. She was injured in accidents while working on a movie in 1985 and faded from the scene as she struggled with health and financial problems.

Raised by her grandmother, she never knew her father and took her stepfather’s surname.

It wasn’t until around 13 years ago that she tracked down her dad, just before he died. He was a Frenchman named Ferdinand Desneiges, and he never knew he had a Thai daughter.

Having proved her biological relationship, Jarunee, now 51, took the name Caroline Desneiges and today devotes most of her time to running a health products company, Thaidham Alliance.

But she still takes the occasional acting role, most memorably playing one of the three titular ladies of action in Nonzee Nimibutr’s 2008 high-seas swashbuckler, “Queens of Langkasuka”, aka “Puenyai Jom Salad" or “Tsunami Warrior”.

 As part of its Lotus Award tribute to Jarunee, the festival will screen both “Baan Sai Thong” and “Pojjaman Sawangwong”, with the first film showing on Monday at 8.30 and November 23 at 3.30. The sequel screens at 8.40pm on Tuesday and 6pm next Friday, all at the festival venue, SF World Cinema at CentralWorld.

Still counting

Elsewhere on the festival scene, indie director Nawapol Thamrongrattanrit continues to add to his impressive award count for his experimental feature “36”. The latest is the Best Film prize at last weekend’s Five Flavours Film Festival in Warsaw.

And Singapore’s Academy Awards submission “Ilo Ilo” earned a special mention at the Polish fest.

Five Flavours also had a Horror Cinema programme, which included Thailand's Oscar pick “Countdown”.

Meanwhile, Nawapol’s latest feature “Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy” is being readied for a release in Thailand on November 28.

In the run-up to that, producer Aditya Assarat and his Pop Pictures are staging a “rewind” of all their films at Bangkok’s House cinema, starting last week with Aditya’s “Wonderful Town”. This week, Sivaroj Kongsakul’s ghost-dad romance “Eternity” (“Tee-Rak”) begins a one-week run followed on next Thurdsay with Aditya’s look at celebrity and being half-Thai in “Hi-So”, starring Ananda Everingham.