Part coming-of-age drama and part horror flick, the new film "Siam Square" should appeal to a cross-section of moviegoers
MENTION SIAM SQUARE and the picture that immediately springs to mind is a busy area in downtown Bangkok frequented by teenagers hanging around and munching on fast food and fizzy drinks as they wait for classes to begin at one of the many tutorial schools. On the screen it is traditionally portrayed though rose-tinted specs with plenty of teen romance and pop songs.
It’s also the title of a new movie, but while the film is still centred on teenagers, romance quickly turns to horror courtesy of a local and not very friendly spirit.
Does Siam Square really have a ghost?
“Have you ever walked around the area in the middle of the night?” asks “Siam Square” director Pairach Khumwan.
“I went there at 3am and believe me, it’s scary. The usually crowded area is empty and quiet and the atmosphere is definitely gloomy.”
It took just that one visit to convince Pairach that horrific experiences could certainly happen in the area where Bangkokians would least expect anything bad to occur.
The film centres on a group of Mattayom 6 (Grade 12) students who meet in Siam Square to attend one of the cram schools. Jublek (Morakot Liu) is mad at her best friend May (Eisaya Hosuwan) and that leads them to split from the others, disappearing out of sight from their tutor school classmates. A group of boys led by the foul-mouthed Mon (Nathasit Kotimanuswanich) is also hanging round. They have a neat little racket going, uploading shows to YouTube and charging per view. They’ve heard that a ghost lives in the cram school they attend but when they try and find the spirit find themselves in hot water.
“Siam Square” is the first project by Hidden Agenda, a creative group under the umbrella of Sahamongkol Films charged with developing ideas and developing a movie script then searching for a director. The group spotted Pairach and after discussions, picked him to work on the project.
A long-time member of the Thai film industry, Pairach picked up several awards for his work as the cinematographer on Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s indie hit “Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy”. He was one of the directors on the omnibus “Rak Jud Nak” (“Love...Not Yet”) and worked as the cameraman for the special Thai-Japanese movie project “Hand in the Glove” to promote Kumamoto city.
Pairach says he first thought the film was a remake of Sahamongkol Films’ 1984 movie of the same name, which focuses on the romance between a cute teen, played by rookie actress Anusara Chantarangsri, and singer-actor Wongsakorn Rasmidathe. It followed on the heels of a succession of popular teen romances including “Wan Waan Yang Waan You” with Oraphan Phanthong and Wongsakorn, drummer and singer with the popular McIntosh band.
“I though the idea of ghosts in Siam Square was interesting and after reading the script really wanted to do it,” says the director.
“Siam Square” is part horror and part coming-of-age drama, a reflection on how today’s teenagers deal with puppy love, cope with parental expectations and showing how joking among friends can affect friendships.
Pairach feels his “Siam Square” completes a trilogy of movies about the area in terms of recording teenage life in three very different period of time.
The first is, of course, the original 1984 movie. The second, he says, is Chookiat Sakveerakul’s 2007 hit “Rak Hang Siam” (“Love of Siam”).
Sahamongkol Films produced all three.
“The content of each film is not related but all three focus on teenagers in Siam Square in different eras. The changes are enormous,” he says.
“As a film, I feel that it should record the place at the actual time because we don’t know if some landmarks like the Scala Theatre will still be there in the future.”
“Siam in my film has changed, it’s like an old friend who’s grown up. It’s gone from the low-rise shopping streets where we can walk from soi to soi into a maze of high-rise buildings. It’s charm as a fashion centre is fading fast,” he says.
Pairach adds that it found it difficult making a film with 10 characters despite his experience with TV commercials and with the anthology “Rak Jad Nak” (“Love…Not Yet”). He tried cutting some characters but couldn’t.
“The story has been laid out around all the characters, so I had to work with them carefully,” he says.
Casting 10 young actors was also a challenge but he says he was more than satisfied with the cast. Most have prior experience either on the small of big screen, such as Natthasit, who made his debut in Kongdej Jaturanrasamee’s “Tang Wong” and is now a popular actor and show host, and Ploy Sornarin from “Arbat” (“Apatti”).
Despite the large cast, he worked hard to make each character’s background believable. Obviously it got a little confusing at times but overall it is entertaining, especially in the horror sequences.
A self-confessed horror addict, Pairach admires James Wan, best known for his 2013 hit “The Conjuring”.
“His script isn’t strong, but he’s a brilliant storyteller and that’s enough to make audience love his films,” he says.
While many directors love working independently, Pairach is happy working with the studios.
“There’s a team to help work on the project, the director is not lonely and different opinions make the film more rounded,” he says.
“Siam Square” opens at local cinemas this Thursday.