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A mystical love affair between a young soldier named Keng (Banlop Lomnoi) and Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee), the country boy he seduces, is disrupted when the boy suddenly disappears. Local legends claim that the boy has been transformed into a mythical, shape-shifting wild beast, so the soldier journeys alone into the heart of the lush and shadowy Thai jungle to find the object of his heart's desire. Written and directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, one of the most prominent young directors of the Thai New Wave. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.
 

 Tropical Malady

Thailand is surrounded by Burma, Laos and Cambodia, where the horror tales circulate along the border. Even though I grew up in a small town where the land is flat, there were strange animal sounds in a quiet night not unlike those up on the hills. The tales and the landscapes were imprinted in my mind. I always imagine a parallel world with these elements, one where I did not physically live. It situates in a remote jungle with hidden spirits. When I had a chance to make films, which in itself is to create another world, I always resort to this jungle. The love and fear of mysterious darkness and jungle became my addiction, along with filmmaking.

In Tropical Malady, like in my previous film Blissfully Yours, I set the jungle as one of the main characters. But this time the jungle is active, reacting more to the character’s mind. This character is a man in love. He is attached to another man who may or may not be real. The film is about the internal conflict of a man in nature. The landscape acts as a mirror, always reflecting double images, two worlds: human and animal, darkness and light, past and present.

My works in film and video are personal, and have very few links with what’s going on. The current filmmaking atmosphere tends to get very complicated for me. I like to do simple sketches. I shot how I felt each day, some as short clips, some long, building the emotional structure along the way. On Blissfully Yours I was more focused. Tropical Malady, to me, was more temperamental. Since I made Tropical Malady during my “dark” period—I was at pain with some losses—the film is like my sorrow box. Some of the scenes, including the style and the structure, contain personal references. It may appear scattered to some, but it was the way I saw my memories at that particular time. The experience of making this film is very naïve and direct. When we shot in the jungle, I was more aware of how the movie was going. Somehow I felt like I was back in the past making a silent film where there was no man on earth.

During editing, I tried to understand the pacing, the way this soldier moves through different landscapes. The jungle was a powerful character that was hard to edit. We cut out many action scenes because it looked disrespectful to this character. In this way, the landscape was more complex and mysterious, equal to the mind of the character, which is an extension of myself. So I see this film from a very different point of view from other audiences. (Note: For this reason, it is surprising to me that the film got U.S. distribution…but I am very grateful!)

I was asked many times about the darkness in this film. Technically, it was hard to capture darkness when there is a moon as the only light source in my mind. We tried some ways, but they all looked fake to me. So we ended up using little light, which scared the producer very much. My original idea was to have many parts of the second half in total black—that’s not possible commercially. So the producer was OK at least to see something. So we went on to light the night to be very heavy. I am not sure how to explain—to have the weight of the black on the actor. Some scenes were actually too dark to use. The result was like the theater was in the middle of the jungle. The audience shares the weight. During the daytime, I was more comfortable shooting in the jungle than in the city. There are many shades of green to choose. The concentration was high. The only hardship was for everyone to carry heavy equipment long distances into the jungle.

It is interesting that the film looks different in each theater, depending on the projector and the sound system. The darkness on the film is very sensitive—in some theaters it was like magic. As for the sound, we mixed it differently from other films in terms of distributing sound via each speaker. If you listen carefully, the sound is very playful, especially during the last forty minutes. Try sitting at different positions and you will see what I mean. So it is better to see the film more than once….